Optic nerve and macular optical coherence tomography in recovered COVID-19 patients

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Purpose: To investigate the peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer thickness (RNFLT), macular RNFLT, ganglion cell layer (GCL), and inner plexiform layer (IPL) thickness in recovered COVID-19 patients compared to controls. Methods: Patients previously diagnosed with COVID-19 were included, while healthy patients formed the historic control group. All patients underwent an ophthalmological examination, including macular and optic nerve optical coherence tomography. In the case group, socio-demographic data, medical history, and neurological symptoms were collected. Results: One hundred sixty patients were included; 90 recovered COVID-19 patients and 70 controls. COVID-19 patients presented increases in global RNFLT (mean difference 4.3; CI95% 0.8 to 7.7), nasal superior (mean difference 6.9; CI95% 0.4 to 13.4), and nasal inferior (mean difference 10.2; CI95% 2.4 to 18.1) sectors of peripapillary RNFLT. Macular RNFL showed decreases in COVID-19 patients in volume (mean difference −0.05; CI95% −0.08 to −0.02), superior inner (mean difference −1.4; CI95% −2.5 to −0.4), nasal inner (mean difference −1.1; CI95% −1.8 to −0.3), and nasal outer (mean difference −4.7; CI95% −7.0 to −2.4) quadrants. COVID-19 patients presented increased GCL thickness in volume (mean difference 0.04; CI95% 0.01 to 0.07), superior outer (mean difference 2.1; CI95% 0.8 to 3.3), nasal outer (mean difference 2.5; CI95% 1.1 to 4.0), and inferior outer (mean difference1.2; CI95% 0.1 to 2.4) quadrants. COVID-19 patients with anosmia and ageusia presented an increase in peripapillary RNFLT and macular GCL compared to patients without these symptoms. Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 may affect the optic nerve and cause changes in the retinal layers once the infection has resolved.
Date received: 22 January 2021; accepted: 14 February 2021; First Published March 15, 2021.