As we’ve become more familiar with the many ways COVID 19 can attack our bodies, we’ve learned how best to protect ourselves from the disease and to identify the most common markers that indicate we may have been infected with the virus. This particular illness has been found to have specific manifestations that can affect your vision and the health of your eyes as well as significant respiratory and gastric symptoms.
One of the initial things we’ve learned is that COVID 19, like most viruses, can enter the body through contact with mucous membranes, including those found in the eyes. Touching your eyes can increase your chances of contracting the virus, so from early on in the pandemic, every optometrist has been advising her patients not only to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly before bringing them close to their eyes, but they’ve also recommended suspending or significantly decreasing the use of contact lenses to minimize contact. Wearing eyeglasses can also provide a little extra protection for your eyes, raising additional barriers to moisture droplets that may contain the virus. If you’re reluctant to give up your contact lenses for a while, remember that keeping safe can also be a new opportunity to show off your style when you choose a pair of show-stopping designer frames!
Early on in the pandemic, we learned that conjunctivitis, or pink eye, can be linked to the COVID-19 virus. Red, sore, itchy eyes that are sensitive to light quickly became an indicator of COVID-19 in 1% to 3% of adult patients. The percent of children affected by COVID-19 inspired conjunctivitis is slightly higher.
Since this correlation was established, some other ocular problems have also been associated with COVID-19. Episcleritis is the inflammation of the episclera, a thin band of tissue between the conjunctiva and the sclera. Episcleritis has been reported in some COVID-19 cases, with signs of the condition sometimes presenting prior to other symptoms of the illness. COVID has also been linked to optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve. When the optic nerve begins to swell, pain, diminished vision, or difficulty distinguishing colors can occur. Optic neuritis often occurs in one eye, but can also present bilaterally. While most types of optic neuritis can be treated and will typically be resolved, it is possible that the COVID related variety may cause permanent vision impairment.
But as the extended effects of having COVID-19 become apparent, other eye issues are being attributed to a persistent condition called “long COVID”. Retina and cornea specialists have identified several eye-related problems in patients who no longer suffer from an active COVID-19 infection, but are struggling with long-term residual effects from the disease. While studies are ongoing, it has become obvious that certain visual deficits can be linked to long COVID in many patients.
One of the most reported issues is blurred vision. This symptom is common when the infection is active in the body, but some patients with long COVID report a continuation of the problem for a significant length of time after negative testing. It appears the disease can block or reduce blood supply to the eyes in some patients, causing a condition called retinopathy. Retinopathy is a leading cause of vision impairment, most often seen in diabetic patients, but becoming more prevalent in non-diabetic patients suffering from long COVID. Experts estimate that COVID related retinopathy can develop beginning 2 to 4 weeks after the active infection disappears. Because COVID deprives your entire body of oxygen, including your brain, a wide range of body parts and systems can be affected, including your eyes. You can read Mark’s experience with long COVID retinopathy by following this LINK.
A recent French study has also determined that long COVID symptoms are more common in patients who have been on ventilators during their initial recovery. The use of ventilators for some patients has caused nodules to develop on the retina (back of the eye), affecting the quality of vision in the central part of the eye. Because vision problems are not life-threatening, they usually aren’t identified in the ICU, where the majority of patients on ventilators are housed. The French Society of Neuroradiology took ocular scans of patients reporting long COVID and found 7% of the patients who had been on ventilators were suffering from retinal nodules.
New studies indicate that there may even be a way for a vision exam to diagnose the presence of long COVID. A test called corneal confocal microscopy is used to detect small nerve fiber damage in the cornea. It can also measure the levels of dendritic cells (a specific type of immune cell) that are present in the corneas. A current study claims that patients reporting neurological symptoms four weeks post-COVID had increased nerve damage and a higher level of immune cells in their corneas. You can learn more about this important new study by clicking here.
No matter what, it’s important to schedule a vision test as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any issues with your eyesight after having COVID-19. Don’t hesitate to call your Houston eye doctor today at 713-360-7095 if you think you may have COVID-related concerns about your vision. At Pro-Optix Eye Care, care isn’t just part of our name, it’s what we do best.