Does long Covid affect your eyesight?
27 July 2021
Are people recovering from COVID?
The past 18 months have been completely dominated by COVID-19. A disease that people initially thought may be on a similar level to swine flu in 2009-2010 evolved into an awful global pandemic, resulting in over 4 million deaths and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
The symptoms of COVID, with which all of us are very familiar by now, are terrible enough, often leading to hospitalisation in severe cases. With the help of incredible medical services worldwide, over 175 million people have been nursed back to health since the beginning of 2020, and are now considered ‘recovered’. However, something that no one anticipated are the absolutely crushing effects of what is being called ‘long COVID’.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID is defined as “a condition where people diagnosed with COVID-19 have long-term symptoms. The symptoms can range anywhere from brain fog and fatigue to shortness of breath.” As time goes on, more research is being conducted into long COVID and its various symptoms. There are reports of more than 2 million adults in England alone suffering with long COVID for 12 weeks or longer and, when translated to a global scale, the numbers of people affected by long COVID are absolutely huge.
Symptoms of long COVID can include:
- extreme tiredness
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- nausea, diarrhoea, tummy ache
- loss of appetite
- painful joints
- problems with memory and concentration
- difficulty sleeping
- heart palpitations
- changes to sense of smell and taste
- pins and needles
- depression and anxiety
- ringing ears
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat
However, one effect of long COVID which doesn’t feature on the above list is vision deterioration.
How does long COVID affect your eyes?
Cornea and retina specialists have begun to notice eye-related complications in patients who have supposedly recovered from COVID-19. Some people have reported experiencing blurred vision while ill with the disease, but it appears that these impacts on their vision have actually had lasting effects beyond ‘recovery’. Although research is on-going and we don’t know everything about COVID-19 yet, it seems that 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), leading to visual impairment.
Experts believe that retinopathy begins to occur between 2-4 weeks after the patient has supposedly recovered from COVID-19. A symptom of retinopathy is blurred vision so, even if you haven’t suffered with impaired vision whilst ill with COVID-19, you still need to be aware of any changes to your vision as you recover. The disease deprives your whole body of oxygen, including your brain. This leads to issues 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.
Experts from the French Society of Neuroradiology conducted scans on 129 patients who had previously had severe cases of COVID-19 and were hospitalised as a result. Of these patients, 7% were found to have nodules in their macular region, and all but one of these patients had spent time in the ICU with COVID-19. Does this imply that treatments for the disease in the ICU are the cause of deteriorating vision, rather than COVID-19 itself? Dr. Augustin Lecler, lead author of the study, suggests that eye issues can often go unnoticed when a patient is in the ICU, as it is 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.
What do you need to look out for after recovering from COVID-19?
The American Optometric Association recently covered the case of a patient who, alongside more common COVID-19 symptoms such as a cough and fever, began to experience changes to his vision. He suffered with light sensitivity, blurry vision, decreased depth perception and eye pain. The patient found that these symptoms worsened over time until he sought treatment in the form of light therapy. This enabled him to “focus his eyes better”, but he still struggles with poor eyesight that varies from day to day. He believes that his long-term problems have been caused by “his brain being deprived of oxygen and blood flow” whilst ill with COVID-19.
If, after recovering from COVID-19, you find that you are struggling with any of the below symptoms, it is important to book yourself an eye test:
- Light sensitivity
- Eye pain
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty focusing
- Poor depth perception
Although other symptoms of COVID-19 and long COVID obviously take precedence, such as breathing difficulties, fevers and organ failure, it’s important to stay aware of any changes to your vision as you begin to recover. So much about this awful disease is still unknown, so anything that you do notice is something you should make your optician aware of as soon as possible. As with most eye conditions, it seems that the sooner these long COVID eye complications are caught and treated, the better the chances of your vision improving.
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