COVID-19 may harm your eyes as well as your lungs

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In a recent study, researchers reported a patient in China who developed an acute glaucoma attack soon after recovering from COVID-19.

Her doctors had to perform surgery to treat the condition, and tests of her eye tissue showed evidence of SARS-CoV-2.

This finding shows that SARS-CoV-2 can also infect ocular tissues in addition to the respiratory system.

COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory infection, but researchers have suspected the virus can also infiltrate the eyes.

That’s why health care workers protect their eyes with goggles or face shields.

In the study, the patient was a 64-year-old woman who was hospitalized for COVID-19 on Jan. 31. Eighteen days later, her symptoms had fully resolved, and throat swabs turned up negative for SARS-CoV-2.

About a week later, though, she developed pain and vision loss in one eye, and then in her other eye a few days afterward.

She suffered acute angle-closure glaucoma—a serious condition in which pressure in the eyes suddenly rises due to fluid buildup.

It requires prompt treatment to relieve the pressure, sometimes with surgery to restore the eye’s normal fluid movement.

The patient landed in the hospital again, where she was diagnosed with acute angle-closure glaucoma and cataract.

Medication failed to bring down her eye pressure, so her doctors performed surgery—taking tissue samples in the process.

Tests of those samples turned up evidence that SARS-CoV-2 had invaded the eye tissues.

In general, certain anatomical features of the eye make some people vulnerable to acute angle-closure glaucoma, and it can be triggered by medications.

Since the patient was hospitalized and likely received various drugs, that might have been the cause.

Researchers say that it’s not possible to say whether the patient contracted SARS-CoV-2 via her eyes.

But that is a possibility—whether through viral particles in the air or by touching her eyes with a virus-contaminated hand.

Another big unknown is whether any lingering virus in patients’ eye tissue will cause problems.

For health care providers, researchers suggest wearing goggles and face shields; for the average person, it’s regular hand-washing and keeping the hands away from the eyes.

One author of the study is Dr. Ying Yan from the General Hospital of the Central Theater Command in Wuhan.

The study is published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

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