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Coronavirus symptoms: Does Covid-19 affect eyesight as Dominic Cummings described?

'Cases where Covid-19 is recorded alongside an impact on eyesight are rare, so we cannot establish a direct causal effect'

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 27 May 2020 01:31 BST
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(AFP/Getty)

Medical experts have said there is currently “very little evidence” to suggest Covid-19 impacts eyesight following claims from both the prime minister and his adviser that they believed their vision may have been affected by the coronavirus.

After a controversial trip from his London home to his parent’s farm in Durham, the prime minister’s top adviser Dominic Cummings was seen in beauty spot Barnard Castle during lockdown - a 30 minute drive he said he made with his wife and young child as to test if he could see well enough to transport them back to the capital.

It was a detail backed up by the prime minister during the daily Downing Street press briefing, during which he pulled a pair of spectacles from his pocket and said he had needed to use them for the first time in years after contracting the virus.

However medical experts have been less convinced - with world-renowned specialists, Moorfields Eye Hospital, saying there was not yet enough data to support claims the virus may cause sight issues.

In a statement a hospital spokesperson said: "At present, there is very little evidence to suggest that Covid-19 can affect eyesight.

"Cases where Covid-19 is recorded alongside an impact on eyesight are rare, so we cannot establish a direct causal effect.

"We need more data to be collected on Covid-19-related eye conditions to see if there is an association."

Meanwhile the Royal College of Ophthalmologists also said it was unable to report on the link "due to a lack of evidence" - but added its scientific journal, Eye, had recently published a collection of research papers looking at Covid-19 patients and eye health.

In particular one paper looked at eye problems that have affected those in intensive care including corneal infection, inability to close the eyes and the eye surface becoming very dry.

The College added in a statement: "We believe that there have been a few cases reported on viral conjunctivitis and a statement was issued on this topic, in association with the College of Optometrists, in March."

The government’s list of Covid-19 symptoms to watch out for does not currently mention eyesight - instead focussing on a high temperature, a sustained dry cough and a loss of taste or smell.

However, while relative caution remains over the lack of available evidence to suggest an impact on vision, Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford, says one study has suggested the virus could affect the eyes in several ways.

"It was reported in approximately one third of patients in Wuhan in a recent study.

"The ocular manifestations in the Wuhan patients included conjunctivitis, conjunctival hyperemia (red eye), chemosis (eye swelling), epiphora (watery eye) and increased secretions (sticky eye).

"Any of the above symptoms may affect vision and affected patients would be advised to drive with caution or not at all if there was significant blurring of vision or double vision."

Additional reporting by PA

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