Soreness, light sensitivity and other eye problems likely to occur in COVID-19 patients, suggests study
The researchers could not find any gender differences in these associations between COVID-19 and eye manifestations, suggesting that men and women experienced these problems in the same degree
The COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the body through the mucous membranes and infects healthy cells through ACE2 receptors.
And while wearing masks to cover these susceptible membranes in the nose and mouth is a recognised and widely-used method of preventing COVID-19 infection, the susceptibility of the eyes has not been highlighted by as many studies yet.
Studies in June 2020 in journals like The Lancet first indicated that while the mechanism may not be clear yet, SARS-CoV-2 can indeed enter the body via the eyes. This study even suggested that using eye protective gear can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 to some extent.
In October 2020, a case study from Wuhan, China, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, showed that not only can SARS-CoV-2 multiply inside ocular tissue but can also affect the eyes to cause symptoms and complications. Pink eye or mild conjunctivitis and eye pain were listed as symptoms of COVID-19 in this case study.
More to eye symptoms than conjunctivitis?
A new study published in the journal BMJ Open Ophthalmology takes this knowledge of COVID-19 manifestations in the eyes forward by evaluating which ocular symptoms are most associated with the disease.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Anglia Ruskin University, was based on the premise that even though conjunctivitis was being reported by people with COVID-19 , there are many other ocular symptoms associated with this eye disease.
Better information regarding how eye symptoms differed among patients who had a history of eye diseases, types of eye symptoms and how long they lasted as compared to other COVID-19 symptoms is needed.
To understand these qualitative differences, the researchers devised an online questionnaire to obtain self-reported data from people with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. Inputs about the type, frequency and duration of different COVID-19 symptoms were collected, along with a record of anterior eye symptoms experienced by participants before and during COVID-19 . The study gathered data from 83 participants via these questionnaires.
Ocular manifestations of COVID-19
The researchers found that among these 83 participants, 66 percent reported dry cough, 76 percent experienced fever, 90 percent had fatigue and 70 percent suffered from loss of sense of smell or taste during the entire duration of the COVID-19 infection.
They also found that 81 percentof the participants reported that their ocular symptoms arose within two weeks of other COVID-19 symptoms. Around 80 percent of the participants said that their ocular symptoms lasted for less than two weeks, then were resolved as the infection abated.
The participants also reported the three most common ocular symptoms to be photophobia or light sensitivity (18 percent), sore eyes (16 percent) and itchy eyes (17 percent). The researchers found that the frequency of sore eyes was significantly higher during the COVID-19 infection than in the pre-COVID stage, with the latter being reported by only five percent of the participants.
The researchers could not find any gender differences in these associations between COVID-19 and eye manifestations, suggesting that men and women experienced these problems in the same degree.
The researchers also discovered that the participants reported other symptoms that are usually associated with conjunctivitis like mucous discharge and gritty eyes. But they inferred that these symptoms are usually associated with bacterial conjunctivitis, and were therefore concluded to be not of significance where COVID-19 is concerned.
The study concluded that experiencing sore eyes is the most significant ocular symptom experienced by people with COVID-19 and the use of the umbrella term conjunctivitis should be done with caution while treating such patients with ocular symptoms.
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