Dominic Cummings

    Dominic Cummings (Getty)

    Can Covid-19 affect your vision?

    27 May 2020

    You will need to have been on an unauthorized journey to another planet to be unaware of a little local difficulty over this last week concerning the Prime Minister and whether his chief adviser Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules by driving 260 miles to his parent’s property in Durham so that childcare could be facilitated. Acres of comment has accrued since the story broke and the arguments for and against his actions are now well known.

    Of all the various explanations of his behaviour given by him during the Downing Street press conference, one of the most peculiar was the claim that he drove, along with his wife and young child, on a 30-mile lockdown trip to Barnard Castle to see if he could drive safely, as he feared his eyesight might have been affected by coronavirus: ‘My wife was very worried, particularly because my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She didn’t want to risk a nearly 300 mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been. We agreed to go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely.’

    Leaving to one side the obvious retorts to this course of action, eye problems are currently not on the UK’s list of coronavirus symptoms. Currently, only a high temperature, a new continuous cough, and a loss of smell or taste are considered to be common signs of the disease.

    Cummings is not the only politician to have cited problems with vision as a result of Covid-19. In a press conference on May 25th, Boris Johnson said that he was having to wear glasses ‘for the first time in years because of the likely effects of this thing. I think it’s very, very plausible that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus.’

    Unfortunately for both of them, there is very little medical evidence that this is the case, a point confirmed by the world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital which also said that ‘cases where Covid-19 is recorded alongside an impact on eyesight are rare, so we cannot establish a direct causal effect’ and that more data was needed to see if any such association exists.

    In its list of less common coronavirus symptoms the World Health Organisation lists conjunctivitis as a possible effect, where there is generalised inflammation of the eyes causing them to become reddened or bloodshot, inflamed and sore or feeling gritty, watery and occasionally sticky. Such symptoms would be obvious to anyone who had them but for visual blurring to occur they would have to be very severe. The College of Optometrists have issued the entirely logical statement saying they strongly advise against anyone taking a drive to test their eyesight, and that it is every driver’s legal responsibility to ensure they are fit to drive.

    Worrying eye symptoms such as a sudden change in vision should always require urgent medical appraisal, either from a doctor, NHS 111 or an optometrist and this advice is absolute.  Regarding going for a lockdown drive to check if you can see properly, the advice is also simple and straightforward. Don’t.