Severe Covid could cause potentially dangerous eye abnormalities - latest findings explained

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 11:22 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 11:23 am
Severe Covid patients could be left with potentially dangerous ‘nodules’ on their eyes (Photo: Getty Images)

People who suffer with severe Covid-19 symptoms could be left with potentially dangerous ‘nodules’ on their eyes, a new study has warned.

The research, conducted at the University of Paris, found that multiple patients had developed abnormalities on the back of their eyeballs, which could be linked with inflammation.

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Unusual abnormalities

The study, published in the medical journal Radiology, assessed the MRI scans of 129 patients who had suffered severe coronavirus symptoms.

Out of the patients studied, nine (seven per cent) were found to have unusual abnormalities in their eyes, with MRI scans revealing one or more nodules on the back of their eyeball.

Eight of these patients had spent time in the intensive care unit for Covid-19, while many also had underlying health conditions, including two with diabetes, six who were obese and two had hypertension.

The effects of the nodules are not yet known, but researchers believe they could be linked with inflammation triggered by the virus.

Scientists have also theorised that the problem could be caused by patients lying on their front in hospital, meaning the veins in the eye do not properly drain.

Patients who are hospitalised with Covid-19 are often placed lying on their front in order to help them breathe, as this prone positioning allows them to get a stronger flow of oxygen into their lungs.

All of the affected patients in the study had been lying in this position while in intensive care.

The University of Paris team also suggested that the nodules could be connected to intubation, which is when a tube is placed through the mouth and into the airway so that a patient can be put on a ventilator.

Study lead author Dr Augustin Lecler, of the University of Paris, said: "We showed that a few patients with severe Covid-19 from the French Covid-19 cohort had one or several nodules of the posterior pole of the globe,

"This is the first time these findings have been described using MRI.

“Our study advocates for screening of all patients hospitalised in the ICU for severe Covid-19. We believe those patients should receive specific eye-protective treatments.

"We have launched a prospective study with dedicated high-resolution images for exploring the eye and orbit in patients with light to moderate Covid. Therefore, we will be able to know whether our findings were specific to severe Covid patients or not."

Calls for eye screening

Eye issues have also been linked to Covid-19 in a separate recent study, with researchers suggesting sore and itchy eyes could be an early sign of infection.

A high temperature, a new and continuous cough, and a loss of taste and smell are recognised as the most common symptoms of coronavirus, but having sore and itchy eyes could be an indicator someone has contracted the virus, with these symptoms starting two weeks before any other signs occur.

The research, published in the BMJ Open Ophthalmology, also indicated light sensitivity – known as photophobia – as another sign of infection.

Some scientists fear that eye issues could be overlooked as doctors are treating other more serious symptoms.

They are now calling on health bosses to include eye screening for all Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care.

Researchers at the University of Paris are also performing follow-up clinical and MRI examinations in the survivors to monitor the nodules and to see if they carry any clinical consequences, such as vision loss or visual field impairment.

They are also performing MRI exams in new patients with severe Covid-19 from the second and third waves of the pandemic, using more rigorous tests. The effects on patients with moderate Covid-19 are currently under investigation.