08 March 2022
Is poor vision a symptom of COVID-19?
This month marks 2 years since the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. Life as we know it changed overnight and the consequences of this devastating pandemic have been felt in almost every aspect of society. As people were starting to recover, we first began to hear of ‘long COVID’, an illness whereby some of the symptoms of COVID stay with the patient for weeks or months, long after they should have recovered fully. We’ve touched on long COVID on this blog before and have looked into how it may have impacts on your eye health and potentially even change your vision.
Many of us will remember Dominic Cummings’ infamous drive to Barnard Castle in April 2020 allegedly to check his eyesight following recovering from COVID-19. Boris Johnson came to his defence and mentioned that “for the first time in years” he was relying on glasses after his COVID-19 recovery. Now that we are two years into the pandemic, there has been further research conducted on this topic and there are some startling findings when it comes to myopia, also known as short-sightedness.
How can COVID-19 damage your eyes?
Specialists in cornea and retina research have begun to notice eye-related complications in patients who have supposedly recovered from COVID-19. Some patients have experienced blurry vision while ill with COVID-19, but it’s now beginning to look like these effects are lasting beyond the recovery period for weeks and months. While we don’t yet know everything about COVID-19, it looks like the disease blocks or restricts blood supply to the retina in some patients. This results in a condition called retinopathy (something that some diabetic patients already deal with) which results in visual impairment.
Researchers believe that retinopathy begins to occur between 2-4 weeks after the patient has supposedly recovered from COVID-19. One of the main symptoms of retinopathy is blurry vision which can occur after you’ve had COVID-19, even if your vision was unaffected while you were actually ill. This means that you need to monitor your vision as you recover so that you’re aware of any changes during this period. COVID-19 deprives your whole body of oxygen, including your brain, leading to problems with a range of body parts and organs, particularly your eyes.
Aside from retinopathy, long COVID (or perhaps the treatment for it, e.g. being intubated or on a ventilator) is also thought to be the cause of nodules growing on your macula. The macula is the part of your retina (the back of your eye) which is responsible for central vision so, if you notice any changes to your central vision after having COVID-19, it’s important to go for an eye test.
Researchers from the French Society of Neuroradiology studied 129 patients who were hospitalised due to severe complications with COVID-19. Of these patients, 7% were found to have nodules in their macular region. All except one of these patients had spent time in the ICU with COVID-19. Perhaps this suggests that treatments for COVID-19 in the ICU are the cause of deteriorating vision, rather than COVID-19 itself?
Dr. Augustin Lecler, lead author of the study, put forward the theory that eye issues can often go unnoticed when a patient is in the ICU. These problems are not immediately life-threatening, as the other symptoms of COVID-19 can be. He recommends that all patients who have been in the ICU with the disease have an eye test upon recovery, in order to identify any eye issues early on, before the condition progresses beyond repair.
19% of people are wearing their glasses more
A 2020 survey carried out 6 months into the pandemic found that since the start of the lockdowns, 19% of respondents found themselves wearing their glasses more. This is likely to be for a number of reasons, one of them being the increased screen time that comes with staying inside during lockdowns. Before lockdowns and the pandemic, research showed that the average adult spent 8 hours and 41 minutes on digital devices each day. However, for some people, this number is sure to be higher, especially if their jobs involve them using a computer for 35-40 hours a week.
Living and working from the same space during the stay at home order led to a huge increase in our screen time, and therefore a significant increase in people suffering with computer vision syndrome. This is the name given to a group of symptoms which occur when you spend too long looking at digital screens, which can strain the eyes.
Symptoms of computer vision syndrome are:
- Dry, red eyes
- Blurry vision
- Aching eyes
Wearing contact lenses while dealing with these symptoms, particularly when it comes to dry eyes, can be irritating. This is perhaps a reason for the increase in the number of people wearing glasses. Lots of people also say that they mainly wear glasses for cosmetic reasons so, if they’re not leaving the house as often, they have more reason to choose glasses over contact lenses.
Other Optimax blog topics which may interest you: