Skip to main content
  • Is ‘COVID Eye’ a Thing?

    Leer en Español:
    Reviewed By James G Chelnis, MD
    Published Jan. 18, 2022

    The British press recently reported that a 9-year-old boy was nearly blinded after developing so-called "Covid eye." He lost vision in one eye less than a week after testing positive for Covid-19. Physicians determined the boy had developed orbital cellulitis, a bacterial infection in his eye socket.

    Cellulitis is serious because if it’s not treated quickly and aggressively, it can lead to blindness. Luckily the boy was treated and made a full recovery.

    Does COVID cause cellulitis?

    There have been a handful of reports of people with COVID who later developed orbital cellulitis. But it’s unclear COVID caused the rare eye infection.

    Here’s what ophthalmologists do know:

    • An infection in the blood stream can spread to the eye and cause orbital cellulitis
    • Some people may have a weakened immune system after recovering from COVID, making them susceptible to a bacterial infection or sinusitis (two conditions that can lead to orbital cellulitis)

    Or perhaps small blood clots that form in response to COVID may be to blame? New York ophthalmologist James G. Chelnis, MD, recently treated a patient who developed orbital cellulitis after having COVID. During his COVID infection, the patient developed scattered small blood clots, some that traveled behind the same eye that developed cellulitis.

    “Thrombi (blood clots) are like banquets for bacteria,” Dr. Chelnis explained. “It is possible that small emboli are laying the groundwork for infections in the orbit.” 

    What you should know about COVID and orbital cellulitis

    Whether or not the two conditions are linked, here’s what your ophthalmologist wants you to know about orbital cellulitis:

    • Cellulitis can be caused by many things:
      • insect bites
      • a skin wound (especially on the face)
      • dental surgery or other surgery of the head and neck
      • sinus infection
      • asthma
    • Because sinus infections are more common in cold weather, cellulitis occurs more in the winter.
    • It is important to clean any wounds carefully. If you have surgery, follow your doctor or dentist’s instructions for self-care.

    How do I know if I have cellulitis?

    Cellulitis symptoms include:

    If you think you or your child have cellulitis, call a doctor right away. If it is not treated immediately, cellulitis can cause vision loss or even spread throughout your body.