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Covid-19 and the eye

Dr. Chidamber B. Srinivas,  Specialist Opthalmologist
Dr. Chidamber B. Srinivas, Specialist Opthalmologist

Dr. Chidamber B. Srinivas, MBBS, MS (Ophthalmology) D.O.M.S. (Ophthalmology) Vitreo-Retinal Fellow (Melbourne, Australia) on how to protect your vision from harmful effects of the pandemic

Published: Fri 22 Apr 2022, 9:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 22 Apr 2022, 1:06 PM

People respond in different ways to Covid-19 infection. While some people develop mild to severe respiratory problems, others experience no symptoms at all. We are still learning how Covid-19 affects the eyes.

Pink eyes remain the most common sign of Covid-19 in the eyes of children and adults, occurring in 1 to 3 per cent of all infections.

Covid-19 effects on the retina: It's clear that some people with Covid-19 experience inflammation throughout their bodies. This inflammation can cause blood clots to form, which may travel through the body and reach the veins, arteries, and blood vessels of the eye.

Few people with Covid-19 will develop eye problems, ranging from mild to vision-threatening. Many of these problems affect the retina — a light-sensing layer of cells in the back of the eye that plays a key role in your vision.

‘Cotton wool’ spots

When blood clots prevent nutrients from getting to the retina, the tissue in the retina begins to swell and die. This area looks white and fluffy like cotton wool, these spots do not typically affect a person's vision.

Eye stroke or Retinal artery occlusion

Blood clots in the arteries of the retina can block the flow of oxygen, causing cells to die. This is known as a retinal artery occlusion or eye stroke. The most common symptom of an eye stroke is sudden, painless vision loss.

Retinal vein occlusion and retinal haemorrhages

When a vein in the retina becomes blocked, blood can't drain out like it should. The build-up of blood, raises pressure levels inside the eye, which can cause bleeding, swelling, and fluid leaks. People with this complication develop blurry vision or even sudden and permanent blindness.

Retinal inflammations

Acute retinal inflammation and retinal vasculitis can be seen in few patients.

In some cases, post-vaccination, old viral eye infections or old eye inflammations like uveitis, or keratitis, can get reactivated.

Am I at risk of eye complications from Covid-19?

Very few people with Covid-19 will experience serious eye-related complications. But certain people are more likely than others to develop these problems. People with the following conditions are at the greatest risk:


•High blood pressure

•Blood disorders

•Other conditions that affect the blood vessels

When eye problems occur, they tend to develop within one to six weeks of experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. These problems have developed in people who were very sick with Covid-19 as well as people who were apparently healthy and lacked symptoms.

How to protect your eyes during Covid-19

If you develop symptoms of Covid-19 and notice changes in your vision, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist right away.

To protect your eyes and your overall health, be sure to wear a face mask around other people, wash and sanitise your hands frequently, and get vaccinated against Covid-19. The potential complications of the disease far outweigh any complications from the vaccine.

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