While SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus first and foremost, the effects on those infected have been widespread across the body, with the eyes being no exception. While much remains unknown about COVID-19, what we do know is that it can affect any organ in the body. It does this by binding to your ACE2 Receptors (angiotensin converting enzyme 2), found in your vascular endothelial cells, which are present across every major organ. As a result, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, ophthalmologists have been on high alert, looking for any possible post-COVID eye problems among patients surviving infection. Here are 5 COVID eye problems you need to be aware of.
- COVID & Blurry Vision: Blurry vision is one of the most commonly reported post-COVID eye problems, with 31.2% reporting it appearing or worsening with COVID-19 infection. Blurry vision is typically caused by inflammation and swelling of the optic nerve, which can interfere with how your eyes communicate information to your brain. Blurry vision can also be a sign of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, which is another common ocular symptom associated with COVID infection.
- Cotton Wool Spots: Similar to the white spots that occur on the brain during a stroke, cotton wool spots are small, rounded areas of damaged tissue in your retina that appear as white spots when viewed through an ophthalmoscope. They are often caused by vessel damage, and as reported by the Optometry Times, occurred in 7.4% of infected patients. While cotton wool spots may have no symptoms, sometimes, they can cause a blind spot or dark arc in your vision, just off-center. If you experience this or have blurry vision from COVID, make sure to have an ophthalmologist run a series of scans to confirm.
- Dry Eye Symptoms: Another commonly reported post-COVID eye problem that many patients experienced was dry eye symptoms, including burning or stinging sensations in the eyes. In the 2021 study, Ocular Findings Among Patients Surviving COVID-19, a previous study noted found that there was a 10.2% overall diagnosis of dry eye in patients, with 4.9% experiencing severe symptoms, but when paired against Costa et al. findings, female patients experienced dry eyes at a much higher frequency of 38.7%. Patients recently recovering from COVID-19 should be especially vigilant about monitoring for any signs of dry eyes.
- Diabetic Retinopathy: In the Ocular Findings Among Patients Surviving COVID-19, ophthalmologists found that diabetic retinopathy had a much higher frequency in COVID survivors than found in the pre-pandemic diabetic population, with a prevalence of 52.7% in their sample, versus 34.6%. Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially blinding eye disease that occurs over time in patients with Type 1 or 2 diabetes. While the precise cause of this condition has yet to be determined, it is believed that it may be caused by damage to small blood vessels in the retina from high levels of glucose in the blood. It is clear from the sample that COVID survivors are at a higher risk of developing it and should be monitored regularly for symptoms of the condition.
- Other Ocular Surface Symptoms: In addition to these post-COVID eye problems, there have also been reports of other ocular surface symptoms associated with infection, including ocular pain, foreign body sensations in the eyes, conjunctivitis, photophobia, itching, and floaters in about 10% of the sample taken. If you experience any of these symptoms after recovering from COVID infection, be sure to speak to your doctor immediately and follow their recommendations for treatment.
If you are experiencing any of the post-COVID eye problems mentioned in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Brimhall Eye in las Vegas. Our team of experts can help diagnose the issue and provide you with the best possible treatment options. We want to ensure that all our patients have healthy eyes and good vision, regardless of what challenges life may throw your way.
1 “What Is Coronavirus?” What Is Coronavirus? | Johns Hopkins Medicine, 29 July 2022, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus.
2 Krüger-Genge, Anne, et al. “Vascular Endothelial Cell Biology: An Update.” PubMed Central (PMC), 7 Sept. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6769656.
3 Jain, Uday. “Effect of COVID-19 on the Organs.” PubMed Central (PMC), 3 Aug. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7470660.
4 Costa, Ílen Ferreira, et al. “Ocular Findings Among Patients Surviving COVID-19 – Scientific Reports.” Nature, 26 May 2021, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90482-2.
5 Benjamin P. Casella, FAAO; OD, and Benjamin P. Casella, OD, FAAO. “Cotton Wool Spot Appears in Patient With COVID-19.” Optometry Times, 20 Aug. 2021, www.optometrytimes.com/view/cotton-wool-spot-appears-in-patient-with-covid-19.