The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected individuals’ respiratory health but has also raised concerns about its potential impact on other organ systems, including the eyes. Researchers from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University and Kocaeli University Faculty of Medicine in Turkey have conducted a study to explore the subclinical changes in corneal health among individuals who have experienced mild COVID-19.
The focus on the eyes stems from the presence of angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptors, which the virus uses to enter host cells. The cornea, a transparent outer layer of the eye, expresses these receptors, making it a possible site for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Despite the absence of visible pathological findings, the Turkish researchers aimed to investigate if there were any subclinical changes in corneal structures that could have long-term implications for ocular health.
The study involved 56 young adults who had experienced mild COVID-19. The researchers used various methods to assess corneal health, including corneal topography to evaluate curvature and specular microscopy to analyze endothelial layer changes. The results showed a significant decrease in endothelial cell density (ECD) after mild COVID-19 infection. This decrease suggests potential implications for corneal health. The researchers also observed a decrease in hexagonality, which measures cell shape uniformity, and an increase in polymorphism. Moreover, central corneal thickness (CCT) showed a significant increase post-infection, indicating possible alterations in corneal hydration or structural changes. However, corneal curvature, topographic values, and biometric measurements remained relatively stable or exhibited slight changes.
Understanding the subclinical changes in corneal health following COVID-19 is crucial for early detection and management of potential long-term complications. The decrease in endothelial cell density and alterations in cell morphology may have implications for conditions such as corneal edema, graft failures, changes in refractive status, and other ocular complications. This study emphasizes the importance of regular ophthalmic assessments for individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. Early intervention and monitoring of corneal health can help mitigate the risk of chronic ocular conditions.
In conclusion, this Turkish study sheds light on the impact of mild COVID-19 on subclinical changes in the cornea, particularly in the endothelial layer. The findings highlight the importance of comprehensive ophthalmic assessments for individuals recovering from COVID-19, even in cases with mild symptoms. By identifying and understanding these subclinical changes, healthcare professionals can implement timely interventions to safeguard ocular health and prevent potential long-term complications. This research adds to the growing body of knowledge on the diverse effects of COVID-19 and emphasizes the need for ongoing vigilance in monitoring and managing post-infection health outcomes.