Annie Nguyen, MD, an ophthalmologist at Keck Medicine’s USC Roski Eye Institute, answers key questions about how monkeypox can impact your vision.
The 2022 monkeypox virus outbreak has made yet another contagious disease part of our daily lives. And as the virus has spread across 100 countries and counting, it’s become necessary to learn about common monkeypox symptoms, including rashes on the skin and flu-like symptoms. Although rare, did you know that the virus can also affect your eyes and vision?
We spoke to Annie Nguyen, MD, an ophthalmology specialist at the USC Roski Eye Institute, part of Keck Medicine of USC, to learn more about this lesser-known connection between the monkeypox virus and your eye health.
Q: How does monkeypox affect the eyes?
A: It’s common with monkeypox to have a rash that spreads to the face and eyelids. Touching or rubbing your eyes, especially when there are blisters on or around the eyelids, can increase the risk of the virus spreading to your eyes. This can lead to conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, and other eye-related conditions.
Q: What eye-related monkeypox symptoms should I look out for?
A: The most common eye-related symptoms of monkeypox include conjunctivitis (pink eye) and blepharitis (eyelid inflammation). Light sensitivity has also been reported by people with monkeypox.
Some people have experienced conditions affecting the cornea, including corneal ulcers and keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), which can lead to corneal scarring and possible vision loss.
For optimal vision, the cornea — a clear layer in the front part of the eye — should be transparent. Corneal scarring can lead to decreased vision. The degree of vision loss from corneal scarring depends on the size and depth of the scar.
Our team at USC Roski offers several treatment options for corneal scarring, including glasses and soft contact lenses, specialty rigid contact lenses, laser treatment and corneal transplantation.
Q: Can monkeypox cause vision loss or blindness?
A: Monkeypox infections that lead to decreased vision or blindness are rare. But, if an infection spreads to the eyes and causes corneal scarring, it can be possible to have decreased vision or vision loss.
However, it’s important to note that during previous outbreaks of the monkeypox virus, only 3% to 4% of people reported symptoms such as corneal ulcers. For the 2022 outbreak, we still don’t know how many people with the virus also had eye-related symptoms.
Countries with confirmed monkeypox cases (1)
Monkeypox cases in the U.S. (2)
Monkeypox cases worldwide (3)
Monkeypox vaccines administered in the U.S. (4)
Q: If I have monkeypox, should I keep wearing contact lenses?
A: Avoid wearing contact lenses while infected with monkeypox to prevent accidentally spreading the infection to your eyes. Since transmission of monkeypox occurs through direct physical contact with the virus, touching your eyes can increase your risk of exposure.
Q: Can eye drops, water or other cleaning solutions decrease the chance of spreading monkeypox to the eyes?
A: Routinely cleaning your eyes with water or over-the-counter eyewash solutions is not recommended, since it can strip away the natural emollients and protective barriers and proteins of the eyes. If you have monkeypox, it’s best to avoid touching your eyes. However, if your eye makes contact with possible infected secretions, flushing it may help to decrease the risk of infection.
Q: What should I do if I have monkeypox and am experiencing eye issues?
A: If you develop eye pain or decreased vision, contact an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. There are no FDA-approved eye medications specific to monkeypox, but your doctor can prescribe other antivirals, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications to help treat serious eye problems. Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops may also be recommended to help with irritation.
1“2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, Sept. 20, 2022, accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
2”2022 U.S. Map & Case Count,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, Sept. 20, 2022, accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
3“2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, Sept. 20, 2022, accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
4“Monkeypox Vaccine Administration in the U.S.,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, Sept. 13, 2022, accessed Sept. 21, 2022.