Eye Protection for Patients with COVID-19 Undergoing Prolonged Prone-Position Ventilation

Publication Date


Journal Title

JAMA Ophthalmol


© 2020 American Medical Association. All rights reserved. Importance: Critically ill patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) who are unresponsive to maximum optimal ventilator settings may be in a prone position for at least 16 hours per day to improve oxygenation. This extended duration of prone positioning puts patients at risk of developing orbital compartment syndrome if direct pressure to the orbit and the globe occurs and concomitant protection of the eyes is not undertaken. Objective: To report 2 cases of orbital compartment syndrome, as well as optic disc edema and retinal hemorrhages, in the setting of prolonged prone positioning of patients in the intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design, Setting, and Participants: The cases took place from April 27, 2020, to May 4, 2020, at a COVID-19 intensive care unit of a tertiary care hospital. Four of 16 patients in the intensive care unit required prolonged prone-position ventilation. A bedside eye examination was performed on 4 selected patients due to the observed presence of substantial periorbital edema. Main Outcomes and Measures: Intraocular pressures and fundus findings of 4 patients with periorbital edema. Results: Two of 4 patients who were in the prone position for extended periods of time had bilateral fundoscopic findings of optic disc edema and retinal hemorrhages, possibly consistent with a papillophlebitis. Additionally, both patients had a substantial increase in intraocular pressure of 2-to 3-fold in the prone position compared with the supine position. Conclusions and Relevance: Prolonged prone positioning of patients with COVID-19 can be associated with elevated intraocular pressure from periorbital edema, direct compression on the eye, and increased orbital venous pressure. Orbital compartment syndrome can be avoided by the use of protective cushioning around the eyes and maintaining the patient's head position above heart level during prone positioning. Patients with COVID-19 may also develop papillophlebitis with optic disc edema and retinal hemorrhages, which may be associated with a hypercoagulable state caused by COVID-19. These observations suggest awareness for the possible presence of these ophthalmic findings while treating severely ill patients with COVID-19..



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School of Medicine

Primary Department


Additional Departments

COVID-19 Publications





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