While 2020 started out as the Year of the Eye, it will undoubtedly be remembered as the year entire nations shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19; the year rubber bullets were fired into crowds of peaceful protestors, causing catastrophic eye injuries; the year smoke from California wildfires blanketed an unprecedented swath of the United States.

Throughout the tumultuous months of 2020, ophthalmologists fielded questions submitted by the public to EyeSmart’s “Ask an Ophthalmologist.” Their expert responses guided eye care patients through the uncertainties of sheltering in place and caring for chronic eye diseases at home. Interestingly, some of the most widely read “Ask an Ophthalmologist” questions were submitted in years past — evidence that even in extraordinary times, basic curiosities stay the same.

Here’s a roundup of our 20 most popular and widely read Ask an Ophthalmologist questions of the year, from the evergreen to the uniquely 2020.

Screen time and children’s eyes

With daycares and schools shuttered during the pandemic, families struggled to balance childcare, housework and professional responsibilities. Children spent the school day in front of tablet and computer screens, then logged additional hours connecting with family and friends online. Screen time became less a reward and more a necessity, fueling concerns about the effects of electronics on young eyes. Pediatric ophthalmologists Jane C. Edmond, MD, and Michael X Repka, MD, MBA, weighed in on this topic.

Improvising with the medicine cabinet

Many people avoided crowded shopping centers this year, venturing out only when needed. Most preferred to treat minor health issues at home. Perhaps because of this, the Academy saw a surge of interest in questions about the shelf life of eye drops and the safety of making do with medicines people happened to have on hand.

This question was answered several years ago by now-retired ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, MD, but her advice holds true today. Read more about the various types of eye drops and how to use them.

Corneal specialist and refractive surgeon William Barry Lee, MD, comments on the connection between pink eye (conjunctivitis) and COVID-19

Dr. Lee fielded this question about improvising with antibiotic ointment. Remember: If you think you have an eye infection, it’s best to consult with your ophthalmologist, who may prescribe antibiotic drops.

Surgeon Gary S. Hirshfield, MD, notes that safety issues aside, artificial tears are best for rinsing the eyes.

Coping with delayed eye care procedures

When medical clinics closed their doors to routine appointments this spring, patients with chronic eye diseases and their doctors learned to navigate eye health remotely. Ophthalmologists fielded many questions about which issues required urgent, in-person care and which issues could be safely treated at home.

Cataract surgery is removal of the eye’s natural lens that has become cloudy, usually with age. Learn more about cataract surgery and read what Dr. Hirshfield had to say about cataract care during the pandemic.

Retinal specialist George A Williams, MD, helped patients understand when to seek urgent care for floaters and flashes.

Dr. Repka, a pediatric ophthalmologist, advised parents on how best to navigate new concerns while clinics were closed.

Glaucoma rarely has symptoms and leads to vision loss without treatment. During the pandemic, some patients worried about the disease progressing without prompt care. This question was answered by James M. Heltzer, MD, a glaucoma specialist and cataract surgeon.

Some patients wondered if surgical equipment would work properly after long months in storage. Cataract and refractive surgeon Jeffrey Whitman, MD, OCS, fielded this question about LASIK surgery, which can correct refractive errors like myopia (nearsightedness).

An optical coherence tomography, or OCT, scan can photograph the inside of your eye. Ophthalmologists use these scans to diagnose eye disease and determine the best treatment for an eye disease. Retinal specialist Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, weighed in on whether this procedure can be done remotely.

Dining, learning and working outdoors

As COVID-19 wore on, some schools and workspaces began holding meetings outdoors to allow for better air circulation and greater social distance. Restaurants, healthcare facilities and businesses followed suit with outdoor spaces for safer service. At the same time, people began spending more time in nature to stave off cabin fever and improve their mental health. So it comes as little surprise that these outdoor-related questions surged in popularity.

Glaucoma specialist Andrew George Iwach, MD, addressed the perennial topic of insects and the eye.

This age-old question was answered by comprehensive ophthalmologist Richard G. Shugarman, MD, FACS, who passed away in May 2020.

Navigating routine eye issues from home

Though 2020 inspired plenty of unexpected questions, ophthalmologists fielded dozens of questions about routine issues as well.   

This lesser-known symptom of dry eye, described here by corneal specialist Ivan Schwab, MD, develops when there are not enough tears to keep the eye lubricated and comfortable.

Corneal specialist Omar Chaudhary, MD, suggested this may result from a corneal abrasion, a scratch or scrape on the front of your eye.

Aaron P. Weingeist, MD, a comprehensive ophthalmologist, fielded this question about possible symptoms of ocular migraine.

Though it was easier to conceal a red eye in 2020, with most meetings held online instead of face to face, this question about clearing blood from the whites of the eye still attracted a lot of attention. Comprehensive ophthalmologist Richard E Bensinger, MD, weighed in on ways to hasten healing of a broken blood vessel.

Interest in pink eye remained high throughout 2020 due to the possible connection with COVID-19. Dr. Hirshfield advises on the best way to clean surfaces and avoid spreading infection.

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