The number of emergency pediatric patients referred to ophthalmology departments in Canada dropped precipitously when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, a study published in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology shows.
Investigators reviewed the number of urgent ophthalmic consultations and surgeries conducted at the ophthalmology department of Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University in Montreal, Quebec — the province with the highest number of COVID cases during the pandemic’s first wave, according to the report.
They reviewed records of patients between March 13, 2020 and May 31st 2020, and compared the number of patients seen for urgent consultations and surgeries with the number seen in the same time period in 2018 and 2019. The facility saw a 60% drop in the average number of daily urgent ophthalmic consultations, according to the study. Altogether, during the first months of the pandemic, Montreal Children’s Hospital saw only 59 urgent patients. During the same weeks in 2018 and 2019 they saw 133 and 138 urgent cases, respectively.
Divided by presentation type — the 2 most common being ocular trauma and corneal abrasions — the researchers were also able to show reduced numbers. In 2020, the number of patients with trauma of any sort decreased by 53% from 2018 and 60% from 2019; however, the proportion of those patients who had ocular trauma did not differ (P =1.0). Numbers of infectious conjunctivitis cases also saw extreme drops in the Spring of 2020 — by 85% from 2018 and 71% from 2019. And although the hospital experienced an 80% reduction in the average number of any ophthalmic surgery — elective and emergent — per day in 2020, the researchers noted an increased proportion of urgent surgeries (P =.013), most commonly foreign body removals.
The researchers speculate that Canadians were less likely to engage in activities that could lead to ocular injuries during the period — especially sports, many of which were canceled due to the pandemic. Additional research points to an uptick in disease prevention measures, such as hand washing and social distancing, which could also help account for fewer infections.
Chaudhry Z, Santhakumaran S, Schwartz J, Toffoli D. Impact of COVID-19 on pediatric ophthalmology in the epicenter of the Canadian outbreak. Can J Ophthalmol. Published online February 13, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.jcjo.2022.02.007