Covid-19 is a viral disease that primarily affects the respiratory system. However, there are indications that it can also affect different organs and parts of the body. According to experts a long time exposure to this virus can also infiltrate the eyes.
Now the scientists have more direct evidence of this. A new study conducted by the General Hospital of the Central Theater Command in Wuhan, China says that there is strong scientific evidence of the virus affecting the eyes. The study report has been published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
The findings of the study are based on a patient in China who developed an acute glaucoma attack soon after recovering from COVID-19. The doctors performed the surgery to treat the condition, and tests of her eye tissue showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2.
The 64-year-old patient was hospitalized for COVID-19 on Jan 31. Her symptoms disappeared after eighteen days and she tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. But about a week later, she experienced pain and vision loss in one eye, and then in her other eye a few days afterward.
She had to be hospitalized again, where she was diagnosed with acute angle-closure glaucoma and cataract.
Medication failed to bring down her eye pressure, so her doctors performed surgery — taking tissue samples in the process. Tests of those samples turned up evidence that SARS-CoV-2 had invaded the eye tissues.
According to Dr. Girjesh Kain – consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Oracle Eyecare Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh – the coronavirus impacts all respiratory system and eyes are connected with it.
“Covid-19 impacts the entire respiratory system along with the eyes and entire face. Eyes are connected with the respiratory system through the nasolacrimal duct. So if you get infected through your eyes, the infection can transmit by tears through the nasolacrimal duct and can reach the respiratory system. It can be another way of getting infected by the virus and this is why people are being advised to wear a face shield that covers the face and eyes and prevents the transmission.”
“Conjunctivitis is the most common symptom of COVID-19, if you get infected from the eyes. In such condition your eyes turn red and later on, this infection can lead to problems like glaucomatous changes and cataracts,” he added.
“In some cases even if the patient tests negative for COVID after being treated can go through this problem. The reason you can test negative for COVID-19 is because you start developing antibodies in the body as soon as you test positive for it. But once you are infected the virus stays in the body which can leave such affects,” he further added.
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COVID-19 Can Infect Ocular Tissues
According to reports, the case offered proof that SARS-CoV-2 can also infect ocular tissues in addition to the respiratory system. However, it is not possible to say whether the patient in this case contracted SARS-CoV-2 via her eyes.
But the experts say the possibility of this can be through viral particles in the air or she might have touched her eyes with a virus-contaminated hands.
Another big unknown is whether any lingering virus in patients’ eye tissue will cause problems. While many experts agree that it is too early to talk about the implications for ocular health from having the virus floating around in the eye.
Experts Reserve Judgement
This is a fact that many patients with COVID-19 do develop the eye condition known as pink eyes or conjunctivitis. The white part of the eye and inside of the eyelid becomes swollen, red, and itchy.
Watering eyes and blurry vision are also caused in some cases. But the patient in the above-mentioned study suffered acute angle-closure glaucoma. This condition is serious which creates pressure in the eyes suddenly rises due to fluid buildup.
Experts have reserved judgment about whether this is the result of COVID-19 infection. To restore the eye’s normal fluid movement, it requires prompt treatment to relieve the pressure, sometimes with surgery.
Glaucoma May Be Due To Medications
Some anatomical features of the eye make some people vulnerable to acute angle-closure glaucoma. Therefore this can be triggered by certain medications.
As the patient who developed glaucoma was hospitalized and is likely to have received various drugs for it that might have been the major cause for the severe condition in her case.
While the experts agree that while this case is ‘interesting’, it leaves open several questions. One is whether the virus present in the eye tissue is infectious.
The experts agreed that the case underscores the importance of eye protection, while it is not clear how the virus got into the patient’s eye
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How to Keep Your Eyes Safe During Covid
Dr. Girjesh Kain suggested some ways of how to Keep Your Eyes Safe
- Goggles and face shields are important to wear
- For the average person, it is regular handwashing, and keeping the hands away from the eyes is a must.
- Wearing eye protection in addition to a face mask is a good idea
This will help in reducing the chance of any virus, including cold and flu bugs, from coming into contact with the eyes. While that may be enough in most cases, people caring for someone with COVID-19 at home may want to be extra cautious.