Healthcare workers urged not to ‘forget the eyes’

Dr Darren SJ Ting

Fight for Sight’s research fellow is calling for eyecare to be included in the care of patients who are critically ill with Covid-19 to stop them losing their sight, in a letter published in Eye on 12 May.

Clinical research fellow, Dr Darren SJ Ting from the University of Nottingham, specialises in corneal infection and has published a summary of eyecare for those looking after patients in intensive care units.

Corneal infection, which can cause blindness, and other ocular complications are said to have been a recurring theme for critically ill patients in ICUs, as a result of patients’ inability to close their eyes causing exposure keratopathy, trouble blinking, dry eyes and contamination from the infected respiratory secretions, among other issues.

In addition, Covid-19 patients who require critical care are usually those who are elderly with multiple co-morbidities, and elderly patients are known to experience poorer visual outcome and a higher rate of complications if corneal infection develops.

Dr Ting and the team, led by Professor Harminder Dua, describe how this issue recently came to light when a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit who had been on a ventilator for several days, developed an exposure keratopathy (damage to the cornea). The patient was immediately examined and treated by the ophthalmology team.

Dr Ting said: “This incident underscores the importance of incorporating prevention, recognition, and management of eye problems as part of the care bundle of Covid-19. It would be an unimaginable tragedy for patients with Covid-19 to recover from the life-threatening respiratory illness but to wake up with vision loss.”

Chief executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said: “We know what a massive impact sight loss can have on people’s lives – hugely impeding independence, livelihoods and mental health – so Dr Ting’s advice for including eyecare as part of treatment for those with Covid-19 in intensive care is really important to ensure the very best outcome for patients in the long-term.”

Dr Ting is jointly funded by Fight for Sight and the Medical Research Council (MRC). He recently published some advice for taking care of your eyes at home during the global pandemic that can be found here.