According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, up to a 30% of the monkeypox cases presented pink eye or conjunctivitis, although in the 2022 outbreak this proportion was significantly reduced.
Only in a few cases there were more serious complications. However, if you suffer from this disease and have visual pain or reduced sight, you must visit the ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a zoonosis -a disease transmited from animals to humans- that produces symptoms similar to smallpox, but less severe, such as fever, headache, muscular pain and skin rash.
Most of the affected people recover in a period between 2 and 4 weeks. The most severe cases are usually in children, with a lethality under 10%.
Smallpox was erradicated in 1980. The first registered patient of monkeypox was detected in 1970, but it wasn’t until 2022, after an increase of cases around the world, that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Interest.
Most of the patients diagnosed with monkeypox develop symtoms between 1 and 3 weeks after a close contact. In general, they can suffer from:
- Painful or itchy rash in the face and the rest of the body, specially in the limbs and genitals.
- Fever, headache and nasal congestion, symptoms similar to a flu.
- Swelling of the lymphatic ganglions.
Eventhough the rash of the monkeypox can have a characteristic appearance, it shares similarities with other infections like syphilis, simple herpes or the varicella zoster virus. In order to confirm the diagnostic, more tests can be required.
Can monkeypox affect the patient’s sight?
It is very common that patients with monkeypox develop a rash on the face. This increases the risk of ocular problems, which is why it is important for the affected people to avoid touching their face or to rub their eyes, especially if there are blisters near the eyelids. This kind of contact can increase the risk of conjunctivitis or other eye problems associated to he disease.
Monkeypox can cause conjunctivitis (pink eye). Prior studies from 2022 warned that up until a 30% of the people with monkeypox had experienced conjunctivitis. However, in the 2022 outbreak the eye problems have been less common. A recent study shows that from 528 people with monkeypox only 3 developed conjunctivitis.
Until now people infected during the 2022 monkeypox outbreak have developed eye problems such as:
- Eye redness
- Eyelids swelling
- Blisters near the eyelids
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Blurred vision
Can it cause blindness?
Several studies confirm that, even with the increase of monkeypox cases, severe eye manifestations are very unusual. The virus rarely causes problems that endanger their sight.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, severe eye complications may include a corneal infection that could lead to a loss of sight.
Most of the reports of eye complications oculars that could compromise the sight were produced in previous outbreaks, in Africa.
Treatment of the pink eye related to monkeypox
If you have this infection and suffer from eye pain or reduced sight you must go to an appointment with the ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
As for now there is no approved eye medication for monkeypox, but the experts can use antiviral, antibiotic or anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals to treat severe eye problems.
If the symptoms are mild and there is no pain or blurred vision, some of the remedies that can be applied home are:
- Lubricant eye drops, artificial tears. They will help sooth the ocular itch and the redness caused by monkeypox.
- If there is swelling in the eyelids, cold compresses may be applied to closed eyes. After using them, it is important to disinfect them to prevent the spread of the infection among other people nearby.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses. After recovering from the disease, the patient must use new ones.
- Cease wearing makeup until the eyes are healed.
It is very important to isolate oneself home at the moment monkeypox symptoms appear. The patient will have to remain there until the rash has completely healed.
Other general recommendations
- Avoid sharing linen like sheets, towels or clothes with other people. These fabrics can spread the virus.
- Don’t share cups or other kitchenware.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands often.
- If you assist a patient with monkeypox, it is important to wear gloves and a face mask to avoid skin-to-skin contact.
- Monkeypox and Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): When to Call a Doctor, American Academy of Ophthalmology.
- Ophthalmic Manifestations of Monkeypox Virus, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
- Monkeypox Virus Infection in Humans across 16 Countries — April–June 2022, The New England Journal of Medicine.