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Covid + Stress = Possible Vision Loss

The State of Israel does not lack for stress inducers.

In addition to threats at Israel’s borders, the Covid-19 pandemic caused a wave of stress and anxiety from north to south. Quarantine at home; sick kids; loss of employment. All of those triggers, and more, put Israelis on edge.

Much has been written about the consequent illnesses that arose from the Covid-19 lockdowns, but at Assuta Ashdod, our chairman of the ophthalmology department Dr. Yossef Pikkel discovered another one that had been hidden from view.

He noticed that many patients were being diagnosed with an eye condition called central serous chorioretinopathy (CSC), an ailment indicated by a collection of fluid under the retina. Blurry vision is the most common symptom of CSC, and the disease generally abates after weeks or months.

But what was causing CSC in so many Israelis?

In an as-yet unpublished paper, Dr. Pikkel surveyed 100 Israelis and discovered that stress and anxiety during the Covid pandemic was the main culprit. Specifically, an internal accumulation of steroids – released as a result of stress – caused swelling around the retina, leading to vision loss.

“During the Covid pandemic, everyone was under stress,” says Dr. Pikkel. “Some people were working less, some people were not working at all. All of this caused an increase in the level of steroids in the body, and hindered the ability of tissues and cells in the eye to work properly.”

His paper, titled “A Dramatic Increase of Visual Impairments During the Corona Plague” found a 200 percent increase in CSC among patients in the Ashdod area.

Some have theorized that the Covid-19 virus or the vaccines that were administered to treat it may have been the source of associated ailments, including fatigue, joint pain,and memory loss. But Dr. Pikkel says CSC was not triggered by either the vaccine or the virus.

“We didn’t see any adverse effects of the vaccine in ophthalmology,” he says. “However, Covid has other side effects that might cause obstructions of blood vessels in the eyes or the lungs.”

Since CSC is caused by stress, to treat the ailment Dr. Pikkel and his team employed biofeedback, a technique used to control some of the body’s functions, like heart rate. Dr. Pikkel used biofeedback to teach patients how to better react to stressful episodes.

“We taught people how to meditate,” he says, “but the best advice is to live a happy, stress-free life.”


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