A controversial drug that is believed to treat coronavirus and which President Trump said he has taken in May to avoid the virus has raised concerns about its side effect on eyesight. The drug, hydroxychloroquine, is said to cause potential damage to the retina.
According to AAO, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine do not cause blindness but 1% – 2% of patients who take the drugs may experience retinal problems throughout a five-year course of treatment.
Patients infected with COVID-19 are usually treated with a double dose of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, though they are only required to take the drug for only 1-2 weeks. The AAO recommends people over 50 with a history of macular degeneration, retinal disease, or have undergone tamoxifen therapy for breast cancer to consult a doctor first before taking hydroxychloroquine or consider an alternative treatment.
Potential Retinal Damage
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in rare instances can cause retinopathy which may cause vision impairment. The doses and period of this medication determine the potential damage it could cause to the retina or the part of the eye responsible for light and visual recognition.
Yearly screening is highly advised to prevent the progression of retinal damage triggered by these drugs, particularly those who are long-term takers of the medication. Symptoms of hydroxychloroquine retinopathy include blurry vision, loss of color vision, poor night vision, and difficulty reading.
No evidence hydroxychloroquine helps COVID-19
Hydroxychloroquine is originally used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and can also help in preventing and treating malaria. However, this drug still lacks scientific evidence of its effectiveness in treating COVID-19.
The American College of Cardiology, Heart Rhythm Society, and American Heart Association urge caution in prescribing hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for treating COVID-19. They warned people of the potentially serious implications of these drugs to patients with cardiovascular diseases.
Recently in June 2020, the U.S. FDA recalled the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the use of hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ) for COVID-19 treatment that they authorized earlier this year.
According to the announcement of FDA, the ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other known serious side effects particularly its harm to healthy eyesight, the potential benefits of these medications no longer outweigh the potential risks for authorized use.
If you are taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for coronavirus or other conditions, consult your eye doctor immediately and schedule regular eye examinations.