AUSTRALIA is being asked to rethink the way its healthcare system handles people who suffer from severe eye conditions, with some doctors now considering the use of an ear protection kit to help treat people with severe infections.
Key points:Patients are being offered earpieces to help with infectionsPatients can opt for the earpiece for free at their doctor’s officeA survey of 3,000 people found ear protection kits were most popular among patients who were already wearing glasses or contactsThe study found earpieces were most commonly worn by people who were not already wearing any type of protective eyeglasses, contact lenses or contact lenses with a prescription or a GP.
“There is a lot of anxiety in the community about what the future will bring for this area,” Dr David Jett, a clinical lecturer in ophthalmology at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“Some people are very concerned about how this will affect their ability to continue to practise, some of them have been using them for a couple of years, and some of the patients we’ve seen who have had severe eye infections, the earpieces have helped to ease their discomfort.”
Dr Jett said earpieces had been shown to help people recover better from severe infections, particularly in the short term, but in the long term, there was a risk of the devices causing more damage.
“People might think that we’ve got to have an earpiece because it’s better than no earpiece, but it’s not really that simple,” he said.
“Earpieces help in a number of ways.”
Dr Hallett, from the University of Sydney’s Centre for Eye Health, said earplugs were one of the most common treatments for people with a range of infections.
“The earplug is the most commonly used method of ear protection in the developed world, it’s a device that has been around for decades,” she said.
Dr Jette said the earplucks were often used by people with eye infections as a first line of treatment, but he said it was not clear why.
“I think the earplug is used to protect the wearer from other things that are causing infection and can help the person to recover from infection, so that’s probably the primary purpose,” he explained.
“However, in people who have more severe infections that can cause infection, such as keratoconjunctivitis or other eye conditions like corneal ulceration or keratitis, the device may be needed more frequently.”
Dr John Beddington, a medical ophthalmologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said a more widely used method was to use a head cover, which he said was less likely to cause infection.
“We’ve had patients in the past who have suffered from corneitis and have had a corneally-infected eye, and when they got the earring, they were able to stop the bleeding and stop the infection,” Dr Beddingham said.
He said a head covering could also be used to help reduce the pain and discomfort experienced by people whose corneas are infected.
“A head cover can reduce the pressure that is building up on the cornea and help to reduce the amount of pressure that causes inflammation of the cornea,” Dr Jette explained.
He also said ear plugs were becoming less popular.
“With the ear plugs, it seems that a lot more people are using the ear plug for a short period of time, for example a few weeks, rather than a few months, because the device is not quite as effective,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“But in the longer term, it could become a problem as people use them less and less frequently, so it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.”
Dr Beddingson said earplug treatments were effective in preventing cornealing problems in people with mild or moderate corneocarcinoma, but did not recommend using the devices to treat people who had already had corneoconjuntions.
He added that earpluggies were becoming more popular because of their convenience, and there were no serious side effects.
He advised people with corneic ulcers to avoid using earplumps and instead to use contact lenses, as these may prevent infections.