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UV lamps used for COVID-19 disinfection can damage eyes

Tristan Manalac
08 Dec 2020

Misuse of the germicidal lamps purchased during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may lead to damages in the ocular surface, resembling symptoms of UV-photokeratitis, according to a recent study.

“With increasing consumer sales of these devices, it is important for physicians to be aware of the potential consequences of UV exposure and educate patients,” said the researchers.

Seven patients (mean age, 40 years; 71 percent male) participated in the current case series, presenting with symptoms of ocular surface irritation, such as burning, marked pain, and photophobia. All symptoms developed after exposure to consumer-available germicidal UV lamps. [Ocul Immunol Inflamm 2020;doi:10.1080/09273948.2020.1834587]

The duration of UV exposure ranged from 10 minutes to 4 hours, and all symptoms were bilateral. Severity ranged from sensations of having a foreign body in the eye to severe photosensitivity and blurred vision. Visual acuity was 20/30 or better in all but one of the participants, and intraocular pressure was within normal limits.

None of the patients reported any prior ocular history, though one had undergone LASIK in both eyes; neither were there any reports of using systemic medications with known ocular side effects.

There was also no evidence of ocular inflammation in any of the patients, but anterior segment examinations found varying degrees of conjunctival injection, as well as diffuse punctate epithelial erosions in all participants. All fundus examinations were normal.

“Exam findings and clinical course paralleled classic descriptions of UV-photokeratitis, including evidence of corneal epithelial damage and absence of intraocular inflammation, with resolution within approximately 24–72 hours,” the researchers explained.

In terms of treatment, all patients were recommended to cease exposure to direct UV lights as well as use lubricating eye drops. Other treatments prescribed included topical erythromycin, topical prednisolone acetate, and neomycin-polymyxin-B-dexamethasone eyedrops, among others.

“In order to prevent the spread of [COVID-19], individuals and local businesses are seeking novel sanitation strategies against the virus. One such method of sterilization includes the use of consumer-grade UV lamps,” the researchers said. The present study has highlighted important consequences of this consumer trend.

At particular thresholds, UV light may induce the release of free radicals within the corneal surface, potentially triggering epithelial damage, they explained. Over time, this can lead to corneal oedema and haze. [Photochem Photobiol 2017;93:920-929]

“UV-C is known to be the most cytotoxic along the ultraviolet spectrum to conjunctival and corneal epithelium,” the researchers continued. “When exposed to corneal epithelium in vitro, UV light induces apoptosis through activation of potassium channels.” [Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2003;44:5095-5101]

The authors caution all persons to avoid direct exposure to UV-C germicidal lamps and follow manufacturer recommendations closely.

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Most Read Articles
Natalia Reoutova, 2 days ago

Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) who have haematologic malignancies have a 28 percent mortality rate, according to data collected from 250 patients by the ASH Research Collaborative COVID-19 presented at the 62nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition (ASH 2020).

Roshini Claire Anthony, 01 Dec 2020

An evidence-based, multifaceted intervention aimed at reducing haemodialysis catheter-related bloodstream infections (HD-CRBSIs) failed to improve this outcome, results of the REDUCCTION* trial showed.

Pearl Toh, 5 days ago
While it is well known that COVID-19 illness is associated with coagulopathy, the optimal anticoagulation strategy remains elusive, and two studies presented at the ASH 2020 Congress further add to the growing debate on the appropriate anticoagulant dose for hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
Tristan Manalac, 2 days ago
People are more likely to follow social distancing measures for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic when they thought that their friends and family did the same, too, according to a new study.