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Amid a pandemic, some people are buying so-called germicidal ultraviolet lamps to protect against the new coronavirus.
But new research finds that decision could backfire when it comes to eye health.
Doctors are reporting on several patients who used such devices to eliminate the virus from homes and offices and developed painful inflammation of the cornea, a condition called photokeratitis.
"During the height of the pandemic, we noticed an increased number of patients coming in with irritation, pain and sensitivity to light," said study author Dr. Jesse Sengillo, a resident at the University of Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
"We realized this was after direct exposure to germicidal lamps that emit UV light in the C range to kill bacteria and viruses," Sengillo said in a university news release. "This can be quite a painful experience for the patient, but with prompt topical lubrication and antibiotics to prevent infection, patients often do very well."
The paper was published recently in the journal Ocular Immunology and Inflammation.
When using UV germicidal lamps, you need to follow manufacturer recommendations to prevent damage to the eyes and skin, the doctors advised.
"The patients we met were not aware of these recommendations, and many were unknowingly exposed at work," said study co-author Dr. Anne Kunkler, also a resident at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
"For UV-C emitting devices, it is best to leave the room while the device is on," she said in the release. "Our patients were directly exposed to the light for various lengths of time. A few hours later, they felt discomfort and sought medical attention."
Anyone who develops eye discomfort after exposure to one of these devices seek immediate medical attention, the authors recommended.
They noted that their paper didn't address whether UV germicidal lamps are effective in destroying the new coronavirus.
"Our study was not designed to answer that question. If you choose to use these lamps, just make sure to follow manufacturer recommendations closely to avoid unnecessary injury," Sengillo said.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has more on photokeratitis.
SOURCE: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, news release, Nov. 24, 2020
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