- Doctors treating COVID-19 patients might have discovered another disturbing coronavirus symptom that might appear in some patients.
- Three people treated for COVID-19 at the same hospital system in New York developed a serious eye condition that led to the loss of eyesight in two people, with the third dying of COVID-19 complications.
- The patients developed keratitis and then endophthalmitis, a very rare eye condition progression.
- Researchers can’t say for certain whether COVID-19 caused the eye problems or whether it’s a coincidence, but they can’t rule out COVID-19 as a risk factor either.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, doctors treating COVID-19 patients report all sorts of unusual COVID-19 symptoms that are hardly what many expect to experience after the infection. A recent study showed that persistent hiccups might be a very rare symptom indicative of COVID-19.
Other patients suffering from the Long COVID version of the illness or persisting symptoms after the virus is cleared from the system, reporting the falling of teeth without any pain or bleeding. And some patients developed diabetes following the infection. Ophthalmologists now warn that COVID-19 might cause a severe eye infection that could lead to significant complications, including the loss of sight.
Three COVID-19 patients treated at the Northwell Health system in New York developed keratitis in just two months. That’s an inflammation of the cornea that was observed in other coronavirus patients earlier this year. Early in the pandemic, doctors and nurses observed COVID-19 patients displaying pink eye, or conjunctivitis, which indicated the virus might impact the eye. Studies have shown that the virus can infect the eye, so it’s imperative not to touch the face with unwashed hands.
But the keratitis in these three patients then turned into endophthalmitis. That’s a rare condition that can lead to the loss of eyesight. Symptoms can include pain, redness, discharge from the eye, lid swelling, and reduced vision. The condition can be caused by a virus.
“I see things like this, but very rarely,” researcher Dr. Amilia Schrier told HealthDay. Schrier is a professor of ophthalmology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
She told the site that seeing three endophthalmitis cases in such a short time is exceedingly rare. Because they were all tied to COVID-19, the cases needed to be investigated. “The whole point is to alert people of the association, but I cannot say specifically that COVID causes it.”
The researcher can’t say for sure that COVID-19 caused the eye complication, but she can’t rule it out either. The progress from keratitis to endophthalmitis is extremely rare outside COVID-19. Only 27 cases in nearly 10,000 eyes observed over a period of 15 years developed the two conditions in the same order.
All the New York patients had other underlying conditions that made their coronavirus worse, the report says.
Of the three patients treated in New York, all in their 60s, one died, one lost the eye “despite heroic efforts to save” it, and a third lost all sight. Schrier explained that she heard of two similar cases, COVID-19 patients who developed endophthalmitis, one in Boston and one in Australia.
Schrier’s findings were recently presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s virtual annual meeting. Echoing Schrier’s uncertainty about the link between COVID-19 and eye problems, one expert told HealthDay that there’s a possibility that it’s all a coincidence. Because of the rarity of the keratitis-to-endophthalmitis pathology, it might not be the virus causing the problems. Researchers would have to determine whether keratitis and endophthalmitis are more common in COVID-19 patients than in people who are not infected.
A report a few months ago detailed a different type of eye complication that followed the COVID-19 infection. A young woman was diagnosed with keratoconjunctivitis, or both keratitis and conjunctivitis, before actually testing positive for COVID-19. She had COVID-19 symptoms but did not qualify for a PCR test initially. Her eyesight declined as the eye issues worsened. Samples from her eyes later tested positive for COVID-19.