Sight is the sense that is the most valued by the general public. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sight loss and how the NHS manages eye disease remains under-researched. Some reports suggest that COVID-19 infection and/or vaccination may trigger sight-threatening inflammation in the eye. There is also emerging evidence suggesting that certain eye diseases may be associated with poorer health outcomes following COVID-19 infection. As one example, this may include age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease which affects around 20% of people aged 75 years and above, which is an age group experiencing some of the worst COVID-19 outcomes. However, these studies to date have been small, and the conclusions need to be confirmed with studies of larger numbers of people.
Using health data from England, we aim to answer the following questions:
- Does COVID-19 infection and/or vaccination trigger or worsen sight-threatening eye diseases?
- Do people with certain eye conditions have poorer health outcomes after infection with COVID-19?
- What is the scale of disruption to NHS care for eye disease and what is the potential indirect impact, such as delayed appointments or treatments, of COVID-19 on sight-impairment and blindness?
This research aims to provide crucial insights and guide government and NHS policy to reduce avoidable blindness.
If some eye diseases are shown to be associated with poorer outcomes for patients following COVID-19 infection, this information could potentially be used to identify patients at a higher risk to be prioritised to receive early preventative or supportive treatment measures.
Addressing these questions will enable us to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the management of eye disease by the NHS in England – for example, by comparing the number of eye disease operations carried out or cancelled before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will see if this has recovered – and if not, results from this research may provide evidence to help to aid this recovery. We will also begin to understand the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 infection as well as vaccination on the development, progression, and severity of eye disease.