COVID: Having the disease affects eye health even after overcoming it, according to study

A study by several Spanish institutions has determined that suffering from COVID-19 affects eye health and that it can leave sequelae in the eyes even ten months after suffering the disease.

The disease, although it occurs in a mild form, can cause alterations in the nervous tissue of the cornea and eye pain, consequences also associated with dry eye, has concluded the research of the Ophthalmological Institute Fernández-Vega, the Health Research Institute of the Principality of Asturias (north) and the Institute of Neurosciences, in which the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) of Alicante (east) and the Higher Center for Scientific Research of Spain participate.

Alberto Barros, optometrist at the Fernández-Vega Ophthalmological Institute, explained that the morphological alterations found in the corneas of patients with COVID-19 “are similar to those found in diabetic corneas and those with dry eye disease”, in a study that associates the infection by Sars-Cov-2 and small fiber neuropathy in the cornea.

“Pain and discomfort are consistent with the symptoms of these diseases and are accompanied by functional loss and alteration of sensitivity,” said the expert, who has stated that the sequelae of the disease influence dryness, irritation and even episodes of pain in the eyes of patients.

Thus, the eyes become more sensitive to external conditions, such as air conditioning, resulting in a gritty or stinging sensation.

Luis Fernández Vega, ophthalmologist at the Fernández-Vega Ophthalmological Institute, has maintained that this research has brought together a group of patients who had overcome COVID-19, examined under confocal microscopy to obtain images of the nerve fibers of the cornea.

“91.3% of the patients presented alterations in the corneal nervous tissue, compatible with a neuropathy of peripheral fibers”, has highlighted Vega, who has pointed out that the viral infection causes axonopathy of the sensory fibers, a degeneration of the prolongation of neurons , which becomes chronic after the recovery of patients.

Experts have found signs that these sequelae can be long-lasting, since in the patients studied, the damage was maintained at 3, 6 and 10 months after the disease had passed, and even in some cases these alterations worsened, which has led researchers to think that these variations can be maintained over time.

The UMH researcher Juana Gallar has affirmed that the consequences that COVID-19 leaves in people, both during the course of the disease and after overcoming it, have been the object of study since the virus is known.

“Initially, we were struck by the fact that there were patients who lost their sense of smell and were unable to appreciate flavors. We know that the somatosensory function of this sense is mediated by the trigeminal nerve and it shares a branch that innervates the cornea,” he commented the professor.

“By assessing the innervation of the cornea, we could see if there was any alteration in that nerve, associated with a coronavirus infection,” Gallar concluded.



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