Is ‘COVID Eye’ a Thing?

Authors:  Susanne Medeiros;  James G Chelnis, MD Jan. 18, 2022 American Journal of Opthalmology

The British press recently reported that a 9-year-old boy was nearly blinded after developing ‘Covid eye’.  He lost vision in one eye less than a week after testing positive for Covid-19. Physicians determined the boy had developed orbital cellulitis, a bacterial infection in his eye socket.

Cellulitis is serious because if it’s not treated quickly and aggressively, it can lead to blindness. Luckily the boy was treated and made a full recovery.

But does COVID cause cellulitis? There have been a handful of reports of people with COVID who later developed orbital cellulitis. But it’s unclear COVID caused the rare eye infection.

Here’s what ophthalmologists do know. An infection in the blood stream can spread to the eye and cause orbital cellulitis. It’s also possible that those who have recovered from COVID have a weakened immune system and are therefore more susceptible to a new bacterial infection or sinusitis, two conditions that can lead to orbital cellulitis.

Or perhaps small blood clots that form in response to COVID may be to blame? New York ophthalmologist James G. Chelnis, MD, recently treated a patient who developed orbital cellulitis after having COVID. During his COVID infection, the patient developed scattered small blood clots, some that traveled behind the same eye that developed cellulitis.

“Thrombi (blood clots) are like banquets for bacteria,” Dr. Chelnis explained. “It is possible that small emboli are laying the groundwork for infections in the orbit.” 

Whether or not the two conditions are linked, here’s what your ophthalmologist wants you to know about orbital cellulitis.  Because sinus infections are more common in cold weather, cellulitis occurs more in the winter.

Other problems that can lead to cellulitis include:

  • insect bites
  • a skin wound (especially on the face)
  • dental surgery or other surgery of the head and neck
  • sinus infection
  • asthma

It is important to clean any wounds carefully. You also need to follow your doctor or dentist’s instructions for caring for yourself after surgery.

If you think you or your child have cellulitis, call a doctor right away. If it is not treated immediately, cellulitis can cause vision loss or even spread throughout your body.

Cellulitis symptoms include:

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