Germicidal lamp use during pandemic may increase UV-photokeratitis cases

Patients should be urged to follow manufacturer recommendations when using a UV-emitting germicidal lamp, avoiding direct exposure to the ocular surface. They should leave the room when the lamps are in use.


An off-shoot of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is an increase in the number of patients who develop ultraviolet (UV)-photokeratitis as the result of improper use of germicidal lamps in an attempt to prevent viral spread.

Physicians from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute noticed a recent uptick in the number of patients presenting with eye and skin irritation, pain, and light sensitivity, according to lead author Jesse Sengillo, MD, a first-year resident at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami.

Sengillo and colleagues realized that the symptoms developed “… after direct exposure to germicidal lamps that emit UV light in C range to kill bacteria and viruses.”

There are several UV-emitting lamps available on the market today.

The authors reported a case series1 of 7 patients (14 eyes) who presented with acute ocular surface pain after exposure to UV-emitting germicidal lamps. The visual acuity was 20/30 or better in 93% of the eyes.

The authors reported that anterior segment examination identified different degrees of conjunctival injection and diffusely distributed punctate epithelial erosions in all patients. No intraocular inflammation or abnormal findings on fundus examinations were seen. Treatments ranged from only artificial tears to tears and antibiotic ointments and/or topical steroids. Five of six patients reported symptom resolution in from 2 to 3 days; 1 patient was lost to follow-up.

Patient awareness of the potential for dangerous side effects to the eyes and skin is important.

Co-author Anne Kunkler, MD, a first-year resident at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, pointed out that the patients were unaware of the safety recommendations associated with these products and many had been exposed at work. UV-photokeratitis also can occur at high altitudes or from reflections from water, snow, or highly reflective surfaces.

Patients may experience ocular burning and light sensitivity a few hours after exposure.

The authors of the study urged that patients follow the manufacturer recommendations closely when using one of these UV-emitting germicidal lamps, avoiding direct exposure to the ocular surface, and that individuals leave the room when the lamps are in use.

The authors have no financial interest in this subject matter.

Reference

Sengillo JD, Kunkler AK, Medert C, et al. UV-photokeratitis associated with germicidal lamps purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ocul Immunol Inflamm 2020; Nov 20:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09273948.2020.1834587. Online ahead of print.