World Sight Day is held annually to focus global attention on vision impairment, including blindness. In 2021, World Sight Day is October 14th and the theme is “Love Your Eyes.” The International Agency for Prevention of Blindness wants everyone to make a pledge to protect their vision such as getting a comprehensive eye exam.
Since COVID is at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, for World Sight Day VisionAware is focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on the eyes based on research that has been conducted so far. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has developed a series of articles on COVID-19’s effect on vision. Research is still evolving, but it is important to share important eye medical information. In an article published September 14, 2021, AAO staff delineate ways COVID can affect the eye and cite four common eye problems that may develop after COVID infection as follows:
“1. ‘Cotton wool’ spots
When blood clots prevent nutrients from getting to the retina, the tissue in the retina begins to swell and die. If the doctor examines your eye closely using optical coherence tomography, this area looks white and fluffy like cotton wool. These spots do not typically affect a person’s vision.
2. Eye stroke (also called retinal artery occlusion)
Blood clots in the arteries of the retina can block the flow of oxygen, causing cells to die. This is known as a retinal artery occlusion, or eye stroke. The most common symptom of an eye stroke is sudden, painless vision loss.
3. Retinal vein occlusion
When a vein in the retina becomes blocked, blood can’t drain out like it should. The buildup of blood raises pressure levels inside the eye, which can cause bleeding, swelling and fluid leaks. People with this complication can develop blurry vision or even sudden, permanent blindness.
4. Retinal hemorrhage
This occurs when blood vessels in the retina start bleeding. It is sometimes caused by a retinal vein occlusion. A hemorrhage can lead to blind spots and gradual or sudden loss of vision.”
Eye Pressure. Facedown treatment is needed for extremely sick COVID patients who are placed on ventilators. Extended time in the prone or facedown position has the potential to cause pressure to build in the eye. This vision loss due to the increased eye pressure cutting off the oxygen supply to the optic nerve. According to the AAO article on eye pressure, “The risk is highest in men, patients with diabetes or high blood pressure and those who experience blood loss or complications during surgery.”
Covid or Allergies. The AAO article on this subject recommends that you check your eyes. If they are red, watering, and itchy, you are most likely experiencing an allergy attack since the Coronavirus generally does not cause these types of symptoms. The article goes on to state that you do not normally have a fever with allergies and individuals with COVID often do.
Eye Care. As of May 2021, The AAO has updated their procedures for eye care during COVID:
- Most eye clinics are holding in person visits, but many still offer telemedicine visits.
- In person visits may require having your temperature taken when you enter the building. You can expect to be required to wear a mask, even in the exam room, unless told otherwise. Many clinics have changed their airflow protocol per CDC guidelines and are using HEPA air filters to decrease the risk of spreading the virus.
- You may be asked to wait outside or in your car and you may not be allowed to bring someone in with you.
- Doctors will normally wear a mask and may have googles or a plastic shield over their eyes and a plastic breath shield on the slit lamp when looking into your eyes.
The AAO stresses that ophthalmologists are available for emergency eye care and that you should call if you have any of the following situations:
- You get regular injections for macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.
- You are aware of changes such as blurry or wavy vision or have sudden loss of vision.
- You injure your eye.
- You observe new floaters or flashes in your vision.
- You experience eye pain or have a red eye, especially if you also have a headache, nausea or vomiting.
Exciting New Research on Detecting the Coronavirus
As noted in an article posted on August, 2021 on the National Eye Institute website, “Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have developed a new sample preparation method to detect SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The method bypasses extraction of the virus’ genetic RNA material, simplifying sample purification and potentially reducing test time and cost. The method is the result of a collaboration among researchers at the National Eye Institute (NEI), the NIH Clinical Center (CC), and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).”
4 Ways COVID Leaves Its Mark on the Eye – American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)
Facedown Treatment for Coronavirus Poses Risk of Vision Loss – American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)
Is It COVID-19 or Allergies? – American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)
Eye Care During COVID-19: Masks, Vaccines and Procedures – American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)