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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 451-455

Post corona virus Disease-19 (COVID-19): Hyper inflammatory syndrome-associated bilateral anterior uveitis and multifocal serous retinopathy secondary to steroids

1 Department of Uveitis and Ocular immunology, Narayana Nethralaya, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Divisha Arthritis and Medical Center, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
3 Department of Neuro-Ophthalmology, Cornea and Refractive Surgery, Narayana Nethralaya, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission05-Dec-2020
Date of Acceptance08-Jul-2021
Date of Web Publication28-Oct-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Srinivasan Sanjay
Department of Uveitis and Ocular immunology, Narayana Nethralaya, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/injr.injr_330_20

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic can cause ocular manifestations which include conjunctivitis to retinal manifestations. A 41-year-old Asian Indian male presented with unilateral blurring, glare, and pain in the left eye (LE), 22 days after COVID-19 infection. He had been administered intravenous steroids followed by oral steroids. Eye evaluation showed corrected distance visual acuity of 20/20 in both the eyes (BEs). Anterior chamber showed inflammation in the LE, a day later in the right eye. Fundus examination of the BE showed retinal pigment epithelial changes with serous elevation suggestive of multifocal serous chorioretinopathy. A month later, he had improvement in his symptoms with no cells in BE with topical steroids with resolution of serous retinopathy. Bilateral anterior uveitis possibly represents an immune-mediated trigger of his clinically quiescent psoriasis causing first-ever uveitis episode, possibly due to COVID-19. Serous chorioretinopathy could be secondary to steroids following treatment of COVID-19-related sequelae.

Keywords: Anterior uveitis, central serous chorioretinopathy, COVID-19, ophthalmic manifestations, spectral-domain optical coherence tomography

How to cite this article:
Sanjay S, R. Rao VK, Mutalik D, Mahendradas P, Kawali A, Shetty R. Post corona virus Disease-19 (COVID-19): Hyper inflammatory syndrome-associated bilateral anterior uveitis and multifocal serous retinopathy secondary to steroids. Indian J Rheumatol 2021;16:451-5

How to cite this URL:
Sanjay S, R. Rao VK, Mutalik D, Mahendradas P, Kawali A, Shetty R. Post corona virus Disease-19 (COVID-19): Hyper inflammatory syndrome-associated bilateral anterior uveitis and multifocal serous retinopathy secondary to steroids. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 5];16:451-5. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Ophthalmic manifestations can occur after recovery from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Conjunctivitis, anterior uveitis, episcleritis, cotton wool spots, retinal hemorrhages, dilated and tortuous veins, retinitis, retinal artery and vein occlusions, ophthalmic artery occlusion, papillophlebitis, multifocal chorioretinitis, central serous retinopathy, and Adie's syndrome.[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9]

We would like to describe a unique case of bilateral anterior uveitis and multifocal serous chorioretinopathy in a patient who had just recovered from COVID-19 and was on systemic steroids.

The study was approved by the hospital ethics committee, vide Ethics Committee approval number: C/2020/09/09 and adhered to the declarations of Helsinki.

  Case Report Top

A 41-year-old Asian Indian male presented to us with unilateral blurring of vision in the left eye (LE), 22 days after being treated for COVID-19 disease.

Prior to admission, he had fever, body ache, and cough of 4 days. His investigations during the stay at the hospital showed normal ferritin 82.8 ng/ml (30–490), liver function, renal function, complete blood count, C-reactive protein (CRP), increased D-dimer 0.52 (0.0–0.5), plasma interleukin 6 (IL-6) 14.6 (0.3–5.0), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) 16 (<10), reduced troponin-I 0.03 (0.029–0.039), and negative procalcitonin (<0.05). Upper respiratory swab for COVID-19 using real-time PCR was positive and B-beta coronavirus (CoV)-specific target gene and severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoV2 (SARS-CoV2)-specific target gene were detected.

COVID-19 pneumonitis with a computerized tomography chest score of 5 showing round mild nonsegmental bilateral ground-glass 5–6 opacities noted bilaterally in the lung in all lobes with subpleural distribution was seen. He was administered intravenous dexamethasone, ceftriaxone, remdesivir 200 mg 1st day followed by 100 mg for next 4 days, and subcutaneous low-molecular-weight heparin 40 mg for prophylaxis and oral azithromycin 500 mg/oseltamivir 75 mg orally twice a day for 5 days and was discharged after a week with oral steroids 20 mg and apixaban 2.5 mg twice daily.

Three days after the discharge from the hospital, the patient developed gradual onset of fever, associated with chills, and headache without breathlessness. His investigations showed increased white blood count 13400 (4400–11000 cell/cu mm) and absolute neutrophils 80.8% (40%–75%), ESR-37 (0-10mm/hr), CRP 18.60 (1–10mg/L), lactate dehydrogenase 299 (100-250 IU/L),IL-6 8.93 (0.3-5 pg/ml) normal values of SGOT/SGPT/D-dimer/serum Ferritin and procalcitonin were negative.

Intravenous methylprednisolone was administered for a delayed cytokine storm in the second admission followed by oral tapering dose of 20 mg steroids and insulin for diabetes at discharge. Steroids were gradually tapered over next 4 weeks. He was a recently detected diabetic and was on 50 mg oral sitagliptin for the last 6 months and mild cutaneous psoriasis and not on any treatment for the past 5 years.

On ophthalmic examination, his corrected distance visual acuity was 20/20 in both the eyes (BEs). Intraocular pressure was 18 mmHg in BE. Examination of the anterior segment showed an anterior uveitis LE – Flare 1+ cells 1+, and a day later in RE-Flare 1+, cells 1+. Anterior vitreous was clear in BE. RE showed a serous chorioretinopathy temporal to the optic disc. The LE also showed serous chorioretinopathy near superior/inferior arcade. There were retinal pigment alterations in macula of BE possibly due to resolved serous retinopathy.

A diagnosis of LE anterior uveitis with bilateral multifocal serous chorioretinopathy was made. A day later, he developed anterior uveitis in the RE.

A spectral-domain optical coherence tomography scan on the Spectralis™ (Heidelberg Engineering, Heidelberg, Germany) of the RE showed serous detachment temporal to the disc and in the LE showed posterior vitreous cells and serous detachment near the superior/inferior arcade [Figure 1]a (RE), [Figure 2]a (LE). An optical coherence tomography angiography done on the Optovue AngioVue ™(Optovue, Inc., Fremont, CA) did not show any pathological changes in retinal or choroid circulation. [Figure 3] shows presence of ground glass opacities in his chest computed tomography of the lungs.
Figure 1: (a) (Top row) Multicolor imaging of the right eye showing yellow arrow adjacent to the optic disc showing the location of serous retinopathy indicated by a slight bulge with other white arrows retinal pigment epithelial defects indicating a resolved serous retinopathy. (b) (Bottom row) Yellow arrow adjacent to the optic disc showing complete reduction of the bulge a month later. (c) (Top row) Optical coherence tomography images showing (R) retina and (C) choroid and subretinal fluid yellow arrow indicating location of serous detachment. Above the retina is the vitreous showing hyperreflective white dots which are posterior vitreous cells which may be of inflammatory origin. (d) (Bottom row) Complete resolution of serous detachment (yellow arrow)

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Figure 2: (a) (Top row) Multicolor imaging of the left eye showing yellow arrows adjacent to the inferior arcade and near the superior arcade showing the location of serous retinopathy indicated by a slight bulge with other white arrows retinal pigment epithelial defects indicating a resolved serous retinopathy. (b) (Bottom row) Yellow arrow adjacent to the optic disc showing reduction of the bulge a week later. (c) (Top row) Optical coherence tomography images showing (R) retina and (C) choroid and subretinal fluid yellow arrow indicating location of serous detachment. Above the retina is the vitreous showing hyperreflective white dots. (d) (Bottom row) Resolution of serous detachment. Posterior vitreous cells have reduced

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Figure 3: Axial computed tomography of the lungs showing 5–6 ground-glass opacities bilaterally

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Based on the clinical and imaging findings, a diagnosis of bilateral anterior uveitis and multifocal central serous chorioretinopathy (CSCR) was made. The patient was started on topical prednisolone acetate 1% 3 hourly with homatropine 2% twice daily in BE. The patient was also suggested to stop oral steroids.

At 1-week follow-up, the patient was symptomatically better in BE and the serous detachment also had reduced. A month later, there was complete resolution of bilateral anterior uveitis and CSCR. [Figure 1]a shows pseudocolour image of right eye with a greenish area adjacent to the disc which corresponds to a serous detachment on SD-OCT, [Figure 1]b shows SD-OCT showing a serous detachment. [Figure 1]c shows pseudocolour image reduction of greenish area adjacent to the disc a month later. [Figure 1]d shows SD-OCT of resolved serous detachment. [Figure 2]a shows a pseudocolour image of the left eye in the posterior pole of the retina showing blister like lesions. [Figure 2]b shows SD-OCT of the left eye depicting serous detachment. [Figure 2]c shows pseudocolour image reduction of blister like lesions a month later.[Figure 2]d shows SD-OCT of resolved serous detachment.

  Discussion Top

Studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 binds to the host cells via the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) 2 receptor.[10] ACE 2 receptors are present in all major organs with higher density in the lungs, heart, veins, and arteries. ACE2 receptors' expression within endothelial cells makes them vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 binding and systemic endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial alterations and endotheliitis tilt the vascular balance toward vasoconstriction, ischemia, tissue edema, and a procoagulant state. The exact pathophysiology of ocular transmission of the virus remains incompletely understood, although there is preliminary evidence of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in ocular secretions. The ocular tropism of the virus and its potential to cause localized ocular disease are worth considering.[11]

Simultaneously, an exacerbated proinflammatory cytokine response has been observed in COVID-19 patients, which was seen in our patient 4 days after discharge from the hospital. The SARS-CoV-2 cytokine storm precipitates the onset of a systemic inflammatory response syndrome, resulting in the activation of the coagulation cascade and a hypercoagulable state. However, whether the coagulation cascade is directly activated by the virus or secondary to local or systemic inflammation is not clear.[12] Elevation in fibrinogen and D-dimer levels observed in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 correlates with a parallel rise in inflammatory markers.[13] The cytokine storm needs to be managed by immunosuppression including steroids.

CSCR occurs or is aggravated by administration of corticosteroids irrespective of the route of administration, namely topical for skin conditions, intra-articular, intravenous, intramuscular, oral, epidural, intranasal, and inhalation.[14] CSCR secondary to corticosteroids can occur few days as seen in our patient to several years after the initiation of exogenous corticosteroids, and the doses of prednisone may be as low as 10 mg/day. CSCR can occur due to disruption of blood retinal barrier induced by the damage of retinal pigment epithelial pump and hyperpermeability of choriocapillaris.[15]

Central serous retinopathy has no causal relationship with COVID-19. It occurred in our patient due to administration of glucocorticoids during COVID-19 management.

The possible explanations for the observed increased risk of uveitis among psoriasis patients could be due to the ocular inflammation triggered by the increased systematic inflammatory burden. Furthermore, several cytokines involved in the pathogenesis of psoriasis, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, IL-2, IL-6, and IL-17, are also found to be at an increased concentration in the aqueous humor of patients with uveitis.[16],[17] Psoriasis and uveitis may share some genetic predisposition such as HLA-B27 which has an antigen presenting role in the autoimmunity process involving BE and the skin.[18] Our patient was HLA-B27 negative. The role of quiescent psoriasis in our patient in anterior uveitis is a matter of debate. We propose the role of COVID-19 infection in the inflammatory reaction seen in this patient.

Autoimmune diseases can flare up after viral infections especially in genetically susceptible individuals. Parvovirus B19, Epstein–Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, herpes virus-6, HTLV-1, hepatitis A and C virus, and rubella virus[19] are some of the known viruses. The postulated mechanisms include activation of IL-6-dependent pathways, leading to cytokine storm and macrophage activation syndromes.[20],[21] It can also alter interferon signaling[20] and affect antigen presentation.

The formation of neutrophilic extracellular traps in COVID-19[22] can provide a fertile ground for autoantibody formation, especially against intranuclear components (antinuclear antibody).[23]

Viruses break down the self-tolerance by “molecular mimicry” and “bystander activation.” Viruses carry structurally similar antigens to self-antigens that activate B and T cells and lead to a cross-reactive response against both self-and nonself-antigens, and this mechanism is known as “molecular mimicry.” Nonspecific and an overreactive antiviral immune response creates a localized pro-inflammatory environment, leading to the release of self-antigens from the damaged tissue. These self-antigens are subsequently taken up and presented by antigen presenting cells to stimulate the autoreactive T cells in the vicinity triggering autoimmunity called “bystander activation”.[24]

The SARS-CoV-2 virus can disturb self-tolerance of host antigens at least in part through molecular mimicry. Development of autoantibodies and sometimes organ-specific Guillain–Barre syndrome or systemic (e.g. systemic lupus erythematosus-like disease) autoimmunity has been observed in COVID-19 and also novel autoimmune features may be seen.[25],[26]

In a recent correspondence, the authors[27] have suggested that a paucity of data on patients with rheumatic diseases in COVID-19 has led to “the COVID-19 global rheumatology alliance,” which may ultimately provide answers. There is a paucity of data on patients with rheumatic diseases[27] in COVID-19. This has led to “the COVID-19 global rheumatology alliance,” which may ultimately provide answers, till then the speculation of the role of COVID-19 and autoimmune diseases and may continue.

We hereby describe a post-COVID-19 infection patient with bilateral anterior uveitis and serous chorioretinopathy while being treated with steroids. Our patient recovered completely after a course of topical steroids and cessation of oral steroids during the course of his ocular management. Patients with COVID-19 should be warned about possible ophthalmic sequelae even after recovery. Physicians/rheumatologists treating COVID-19 should be aware of these important sequelae and refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for timely intervention.

  Patient consent Top

Written informed sign consent was obtained from the patient.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form, the patient has given their consent for the images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patient understands that their name and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]


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