Experts say there is 'little evidence' Covid-19 causes vision problems

Experts say there is ‘very little evidence’ to link Covid-19 to eyesight problems and more data is needed to establish a link

  • Ophthalmologists said little evidence of link between Covid and vision problems 
  • Oxford University expert  said virus can affect eye with reports of conjunctivitis 
  • Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings claimed vision problems after Covid-19
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

There is ‘very little evidence’ to link Covid-19 to eyesight problems and more data is needed to establish a connection, experts have said. 

Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings yesterday admitted to taking a trip to Barnard Castle with his wife and child before embarking on a 260-mile drive home amid the coronavirus lockdown in April. 

In a press conference, the PM’s chief aide claimed he had merely ventured to the market town to check he was fit to drive ahead of a five-hour journey back to London, as his ‘eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease.’      

He was backed up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who later suggested he too had suffered problems with his vision after contracting coronavirus.

Mr Johnson told the daily Downing Street briefing: ‘I’m finding I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years, I think because of the effects of this thing.

Mr Johnson told the daily Downing Street briefing yesterday: ‘I’m finding I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years, I think because of the effects of this thing’

‘So I’m inclined to think that’s very, very plausible, that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus.’

But the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and Moorfields Eye Hospital said today there is little evidence of a link at the moment. 

A statement said: ‘At present, there is very little evidence to suggest that Covid-19 can affect eyesight.

‘Cases where Covid-19 is recorded alongside an impact on eyesight are rare, so we cannot establish a direct causal effect.

‘We need more data to be collected on Covid-19-related eye conditions to see if there is an association.’ 

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists also said it was unable to report on the association of vision impairment ‘due to a lack of evidence’. 

Dominic Cummings (pictured yesterday) admitted to taking a trip to Barnard Castle to check his eyesight before embarking on a 260-mile trip home to London

CAN CORONAVIRUS AFFECT YOUR EYES? 

Dominic Cummings admitted taking a 60-mile round trip while in Durham to check his eyesight had recovered from the effects of a suspected case of coronavirus. 

And Boris Johnson defended his top aide in tonight’s Downing Street press conference, pulling out his pair of glasses and saying: ‘I’m finding that I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years – I think because of the effects of this thing.

‘I think that’s very, very plausible that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus.’ 

So, what is the truth to the claims?

One leading ophthalmologist – a medic who specialises in eye care – says it is possible that the coronavirus could cause permanent eye damage.

Dr Annie Nguyen, of the University of Southern California, said that oxygen deprivation may cause damage to the optic nerve and retina, in theory.

Oxygen deprivation is a known side effect of severe Covid-19, and can lead to patients needing urgent treatment in intensive care.

But in a blog post about how Covid-19 affects the eyes, Dr Nguyen said: ‘At this point permanent eye damage from Covid-19 has not been reported.’

CAN THE VIRUS ENTER YOUR BODY THROUGH YOUR EYES? 

Doctors first warned the killer coronavirus could be spread through the eyes in January, when the epicentre was in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization warns people can become infected with the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes.

However, the main way the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads is through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.

Medics on the pandemic frontline are supposed to wear goggles or face visors in order to protect their eyes and cut their chance of infection.

CAN COVID-19 AFFECT YOUR VISION? 

Some Covid-19 patients have suffered conjunctivitis – an inflammation of the eye which causes it to become red and infected. 

Researchers behind one study found that conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, was a symptom in around 30 per cent of patients.

The tell-tale symptoms of Covid-19 are a cough, a fever, shortness of breath and anosmia – the scientific term for losing your sense of smell and taste. 

‘A direct causal effect can only be established through the reporting of proven cases of Covid-19 patients and their symptoms,’ a statement added.

The College said its scientific journal, Eye, has recently published a collection of research papers looking at Covid-19 patients and eye health.

One of these papers points to potential problems experienced by some patients in intensive care, including corneal infection, inability to close the eyes and the eye surface becoming very dry.

The College said: ‘We believe that there have been a few cases reported on viral conjunctivitis and a statement was issued on this topic, in association with the College of Optometrists, in March.’

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) said any motorist concerned about their vision should contact their optometrist before driving.

It said an estimated 2,900 road casualties per year are caused by poor vision.

Dr Peter Hampson, clinical director for the AOP, said: ‘We are seeing a rise in the number of people who have a disregard for how important good vision is for driving ability and it’s impacting the safety of the individuals who use our roads.

‘Sight loss can often be gradual, and can go unnoticed, so if you’re a driver and have concerns about your vision, while routine sight tests are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, most practices are open for essential and urgent eyecare and will be able to offer advice over the phone.’

Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford, said coronavirus can affect the eyes in several ways.

‘It was reported in approximately one third of patients in Wuhan (China) in a recent study.

‘The ocular manifestations in the Wuhan patients included conjunctivitis, conjunctival hyperemia (red eye), chemosis (eye swelling), epiphora (watery eye) and increased secretions (sticky eye).

‘Any of the above symptoms may affect vision and affected patients would be advised to drive with caution or not at all if there was significant blurring of vision or double vision.’

Other experts in eye care have claimed it is possible coronavirus could theoretically cause permanent eye damage. 

Dr Annie Nguyen, of the University of Southern California, said that oxygen deprivation may cause damage to the optic nerve and retina, in theory.

Oxygen deprivation is a known side effect of severe Covid-19, and can lead to patients needing urgent treatment in intensive care.

But in a blog post about how Covid-19 affects the eyes, Dr Nguyen said: ‘At this point permanent eye damage from Covid-19 has not been reported.’

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