Keratoconus and Covid-19

Some people are at heightened risk of complications if infected by Covid-19. The nose, mouth, and eyes are the three main entry points for infection by this coronavirus. This is why healthcare providers wear both face masks and eye-covering personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as gloves and gowns. Viral entry into the eyes can produce eye inflammation, which can worsen eye pain in people with keratoconus. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Covid-19 is now recognized to cause a follicular conjunctivitis in some people. Therefore, you need to consider yourself as “high risk” if you have keratoconus for  Covid-19 complications.

The following describes some symptoms of Covid-19, ways to minimize your risk of exposure to the viral particles, and how keratoconus can increase your risk of more severe Covid-19 complications. While you may need an in-person visit with an ophthalmologist due to keratoconus, postponing keratoconus-related surgery during the Covid-19 pandemic may be necessary due to the risk of contracting (or transmitting) this infection in a healthcare setting.

Wide-Ranging Symptoms Linked to Covid-19

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) added six additional symptoms as of April 27, 2020 to its list of foremost Covid-19 symptoms. Coronaviruses target the respiratory tract, unlike some other common types of viruses. While fever, cough, and shortness of breath are recognized as the most common symptoms of Covid-19 as a coronavirus, the following are four of the CDC’s recently-added symptoms:

  • Chills;
  • Muscle pain;
  • Loss of sense of taste/smell;
  • Headache

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Controlling Transmission through Hand Hygiene, Face Masks, and Social Distancing

One of the most basic infection control methods to curb the spread of coronaviruses is hand hygiene (whether through using soap and water or hand sanitizer). In contrast, touching the face with fingers and hands that have viral particles on them is a way that coronaviruses are transferred into the nose, mouth, and/or eyes.

Combined with the use of face masks and social distancing, proper hand-washing is a longstanding public health practice to slow the spread of infections. Since Covid-19 is highly contagious (and considered even more contagious that SARS and MERS – two other animal-to-human coronaviruses), practicing frequent hand hygiene if in contact with other people is crucial. This is particularly essential after shopping in a grocery store or pharmacy (where many people can come in contact with each other, and also touch products).

Keratoconus-Caused Dry Eyes, Eye Pain, and Light Sensitivity

Loss of visual acuity in keratoconus-afflicted people is usually due to a combination of progressively-worsening nearsightedness (myopia) and progressive astigmatism. Around 10 percent of people diagnosed with keratoconus have a family member who also has this cornea disorder. While diminished visual acuity (resulting in the need for corrective lenses) in keratoconus-afflicted people may initially affect only one eye, it typically affects both eyes. Indeed, an article in BioMed Research International reported that the “non-affected” eye was affected in 50 percent of youth diagnosed with keratoconus within 16 years of visual acuity decrease identified in one eye.

Corneal bulging and thinning that are features of keratoconus can lead to light sensitivity with episodes of blurriness. Meanwhile, a persistent experience of  having “dry eyes” can develop due to these features, as as well as persistent eye pain. People with keratoconus are also at higher risk of corneal scarring, which can increase keratoconus-related eye pain and blurred vision.

Corneal Transplants and Immunosuppression

Cross-linking is a surgical intervention to halt the progression of keratoconus. However, if vision loss due to keratoconus has progressed to legal blindness, corneal transplantation may be recommended. According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, 10-20 percent of keratoconus-afflicted people eventually undergo a cornea transplant operation.

Following corneal transplantation, daily immunosuppressive medication is typically needed to avoid rejection of the donor tissue. (This is also the case for most organ transplants.) Since immunosuppressed people – along with older-aged people – are at much higher risk of developing viral pneumonia after Covid-19 infection, keratoconus-afflicted people who have received a cornea transplant need to be especially careful to avoid contracting Covid-19.

The professionals at the Precision Keratoconus Center are available to assist you if you are living with keratoconus.

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