Authors: Katherine Hu; Jay Patel; Cole Swiston; Bhupendra C. Patel.Author Information Last Update: May 19, 2021.
Several reports of suspected ocular manifestations of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have prompted investigations into ocular signs, symptoms, and transmission. This activity reviews the evaluation and management of ocular manifestations of COVID-19 and highlights the interprofessional team’s role in managing patients with this condition.
- Summarize the epidemiology of ocular manifestations of COVID-19.
- Describe the typical presentation of a patient with ocular manifestations of COVID-19.
- Outline management considerations for patients with ocular manifestations of COVID-19, including key patient counseling on disease transmission prevention.
- Explain the importance of collaboration and communication among the interprofessional team to improve outcomes for patients affected by COVID-19.
Since December 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic caused by the highly transmissible severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Initially, there were several reports of eye redness and irritation in COVID-19 patients, both anecdotal and published, suggesting that conjunctivitis is an ocular manifestation of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Reports continue to emerge on further associations of COVID-19 with uveitic, retinovascular, and neuro-ophthalmic disease.
During the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, a study detected SARS-CoV in tear samples in SARS patients in Singapore. Lack of eye protection was a primary risk factor of SARS-CoV transmission from SARS patients to healthcare workers in Toronto, prompting a concern that respiratory illness could be transmitted through ocular secretions. Similar concerns have been raised with SARS-CoV-2, especially among eye care providers and those on the front lines triaging what could be initial symptoms of COVID-19.
As conjunctivitis is a common eye condition, ophthalmologists may be the first medical professionals to evaluate a patient with COVID-19. Indeed, one of the first providers to voice concerns regarding the spread of coronavirus in Chinese patients was Dr. Li Wenliang, MD, an ophthalmologist. He later died from COVID-19 and was believed to have contracted the virus from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient in his clinic.
The authors of this article have attempted to collect the most up-to-date information on ophthalmic manifestations of COVID-19 as a resource for identifying symptoms, providing diagnostic pearls, and mitigating transmission.
SARS-CoV-2 is a novel enveloped, positive single-stranded RNA beta coronavirus that causes COVID-19, originally linked to an outbreak in Wuhan of China’s Hubei province. Direct contact with mucous membranes, including the eye, is a suspected route of transmission.
Coronaviruses can cause severe ocular disease in animals, including anterior uveitis, retinitis, vasculitis, and optic neuritis in feline and murine species. However, ocular manifestations in humans are typically mild and rare,  although there are increasing numbers of associated ocular findings in patients positive for the COVID-19. There are no described ocular manifestations of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) or SARS, though, as previously stated, SARS-CoV was isolated in ocular secretions. Other coronaviruses have been found to cause viral conjunctivitis in humans.
At the time of writing the initial article on April 4, 2020, there were 1,272,953 confirmed cases and 69,428 deaths due to COVID-19 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with 79,332 new cases confirmed in the previous 24 hours. At the time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported 337,278 cases and 9,637 deaths in the United States to that date. On April 16, 2021, just over a year since our initial review, the number of deaths worldwide has crossed the 3 million mark. The severity of the pandemic is emphasized by noting the rate of deaths: it took 8.5 months after the first fatality in China to mark the loss of the first 1 million lives, 3.5 months to reach 2 million, and 3 months for the loss to cross 3 million lives.
As of May 17, 2021, there have been over 164 million confirmed cases globally (the real number is, of course, far in excess of this as the number does not include infected individuals who were not tested or asymptomatic cases) and 3,403,722 deaths. India, Iran, and Brazil are currently experiencing the highest number of infections in a 24 hour period ever with new viral strains being discovered in different parts of the world. The United States has had the most infections (33,745,500) and deaths (600,514), followed by India, Brazil, France, Turkey, Russia and the United Kingdom. Increasing infections are currently being seen in Canada, France, Germany, and other countries, necessitating further shutdowns. In the United States, there is an overall uptick in infections as restrictions are relaxed.
Viral mutations leading to variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been found around the world: the B.1.525 in the United Kingdom and Nigeria in December 2020, the B.1.526in the United States in November 2020, the B.1.1.7 in the United Kingdom in early 202, the B.1.351 in South Africa in late 2020, and the Indian variant in April 2021.
Early studies postulated that ocular manifestations of COVID-19 were rare overall. Only 9 (0.8%) out of 1,099 patients from 552 hospitals across 30 provinces in China were reported to have “conjunctival congestion” from December 2019 through January 2020. More recent data, however, have supported a much higher incidence of ocular signs and symptoms. A 2021 meta-analysis by Nasiri et al. reported a pooled prevalence of all ocular manifestations among 7,300 COVID-19 patients as 11.03%, with the most frequent ocular disease being conjunctivitis (88.8%). In the same meta-analysis, dry eye or foreign body sensation (16%), eye redness (13.3%), tearing (12.8%), and itching (12.6%) were among the most frequent symptoms reported.
A case series reported ocular symptoms in 12 (31.6%) of 38 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Hubei province, China. These 12 of 38 patients had conjunctival hyperemia (3 patients), chemosis (7 patients), epiphora (7 patients), or increased secretions (7 patients). Of note is that one patient who had epiphora presented with epiphora as the first symptom of COVID-19. Of those with ocular manifestations, 2 (16.7%) patients had positive results of SARS-CoV-2 on reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) by a conjunctival swab, as well as by nasopharyngeal swabs. Only one patient in this study presented with conjunctivitis as the first symptom. The authors noted that patients with ocular symptoms had higher white blood cell and neutrophil counts, C-reactive protein, and higher levels of procalcitonin and lactate dehydrogenase compared to patients without ocular abnormalities.
Out of 30 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 tested by Xia et al., one patient had conjunctivitis and was also the sole patient in the study to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 in ocular secretions by a conjunctival swab. This patient did not have a severe fever or respiratory symptoms at the time of testing.
For More Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556093/