19 November 2021

Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 have experienced long-term problems with their eyes. But why? And can this phenomenon be measured using biological markers? These are questions that researchers will try to answer in a new project funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Neil Lagali with equipment used for clinical examination.Neil Lagali with equipment used for clinical examination of the cornea’s nerves and cells. Photo credit Berit Byström

Pain, a gritty feeling, sensitivity to light and running are problems that can affect the eyes of people who have had COVID-19.

“I’ve met patients with these symptoms, and it’s very important for them to get an explanation as to why they’re suffering. But we still don’t know why they have these long-term eye problems after contracting COVID-19”, says Professor Neil Lagali from the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University.

His research group was contacted by colleagues from the rehabilitation clinic at Linköping University Hospital. They had been following a group of patients who were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and later recovered. Some of these patients have post-COVID, with various symptoms continuing to cause problems a year after infection. About 1 in 10 of these patients have problems with their eyes.

Since routine eye examinations haven’t shed light on these problems, the researchers are now going to use more advanced methods to test the patients’ eyes. They believe that the autonomic nervous system – the part of the nervous system which we can’t control – has been affected. Therefore, they are looking to test the patients’ reactions and ocular nerve function.portrait photo of a man, black hair, blue shirt.Neil Lagali, Professor Photo credit Emma Busk Winquist

“I hope we can find a way to treat these symptoms, so that we can improve the quality of life for these people. Our other objective is to see if we can find any biological markers for post-COVID in their eyes. Right now, there’s no reliable way to confirm whether somebody is suffering from the condition. But it’s possible that many more people will be affected by it in the future, so it would be good to have an objective test”, says Neil Lagali.

In this part of the project, the researchers plan to compare people who have post-COVID with another group who have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 but who haven’t developed further symptoms post-recovery. They will use advanced methods for examining tear fluid to look for potential biological markers for post-COVID in the eyes.

The research project “Long-term eye problems in patients with post-COVID-19 syndrome: origins and biological markers indicating illness” recently received funding of two million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Research Council’s special release of project funds for research on post-COVID. The other participants in the project are Kersti Samuelsson from the rehabilitation clinic at Linköping University Hospital, ophthalmologist Björn Johansson and research coordinator Helen Setterud from the eye clinic at the hospital, as well as optician Jan Johansson from Karolinska Institutet.

Translated by Benjamin Davies

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