How unproven COVID treatment ivermectin can affect your vision
Ivermectin is not approved for use against COVID-19
This article will be updated as new information becomes available.
Ivermectin is an effective medication, dubbed a “wonder drug” for its ability to combat certain conditions. Side effects of ivermectin include eye-related symptoms like pain, redness and vision problems. Ivermectin has not been proven effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials are still underway.
The drug emerged in 1988 as an effective treatment for a parasitic disease — river blindness.
Recently, people around the world promote (and use) the drug as prevention or treatment against COVID. In most cases, the ivermectin is self-prescribed, meaning someone decided to take the medication on their own.
Many national and global health agencies have advised against using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Even the drug’s manufacturers have advised against it.
Plus, when a doctor isn’t a part of the equation, factors like dose amounts, side effects and adverse reactions aren’t being monitored. This can, of course, lead to serious problems.
What can ivermectin do to your eyes?
Ivermectin’s treatment of roundworm infections had a huge impact on global health. The impact was so significant that its discoverers were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2015.
One of the roundworms treated by ivermectin is Onchocerca volvulus. This roundworm causes a vision-threatening infection called onchocerciasis — also known as river blindness.
Most cases of river blindness occur in sub-Saharan African countries. The tropical climates around streams and rivers are a breeding ground for blackflies that transmit worm larvae to people.
The treatment plan for river blindness centers around ivermectin. Ivermectin kills worm larvae before they can grow into adults. Without the early use of this medication, the worms can live inside someone for as many as 10 to 15 years. This can lead to serious eye, skin and other health problems.
As helpful as ivermectin is for slowing parasite infections, adverse reactions can still occur.
According to University of Michigan Health, oral ivermectin can cause eye-related symptoms such as:
Elsewhere in the body, ivermectin reactions can lead to:
Severe skin rashes and itching
Neurological problems including confusion and difficulty walking
Swollen lymph nodes and swelling in the hands and feet
Stomach and joint pain
Elevated heart rate
Loss of bladder or bowel control
Adverse reactions and side effects can happen with almost every medication. But they can become a much more serious problem when the drug wasn’t prescribed and supervised by a medical professional.
Side effects and reactions can be worsened when people take high doses of ivermectin or use a form intended for animals. People taking unprescribed ivermectin have been hospitalized. Some have even been admitted to intensive care units.
Do we know for sure that it doesn’t help with COVID?
No, researchers can’t say with 100% certainty whether ivermectin can or cannot help a COVID-19 infection in some way. But without detailed evidence, federal agencies like the FDA can’t endorse it for that specific use.
The same is true for all medications that are regulated by the government.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study on ivermectin in 2021. As of September 2021, the NIH advises there isn’t enough data to “recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.”
The NIH says it needs to wait for “results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials.” Only then can “specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19” be provided.
Several studies are ongoing and others have shown a possible anti-COVID effect in vitro (outside of a human or animal). But there isn’t enough evidence right now to suggest that ivermectin has the same effect in people.
Health groups advise against ivermectin for COVID-19
Health agencies around the world have cautioned against the use of ivermectin for COVID-19. Some of these groups include:
Merck, the company that makes a common type of ivermectin called Stromectol, has also rejected their own drug as a COVID treatment.
While the FDA urges against using ivermectin for COVID, they add the following precautions:
Large doses of ivermectin are dangerous.
If a doctor writes you an ivermectin prescription, fill it through a legitimate source (such as a local pharmacy) and take it exactly as directed.
Do not use medications produced for animals on yourself or anyone else. This medicine is "very different from those approved for humans" and dangerous for people to use.
Talk to your doctor
Over the years, ivermectin has certainly proved to be a “wonder drug.” But all medications should only be used for approved conditions. Any other uses are ill-advised unless carefully conducted studies and trials prove otherwise.
It’s impossible to say whether the day will come for ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment. Current data does not support it. Until research shows otherwise, health organizations advise that vaccines are still the best bet for most people.
If you have reservations about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, speak to your doctor. They will consider any medical history or health concerns before they make a recommendation.
READ MORE: Follow All About Vision’s coverage of COVID-19 and how it might affect your vision.
John Egan also contributed to this article.
Ivermectin, ’Wonder drug’ from Japan: the human use perspective. Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B Physical and Biological Sciences. February 2011.
Ivermectin (oral). Michigan Medicine. Accessed September 2021.
Five Oregonians hospitalized due to misuse of ivermectin for COVID-19. Oregon Health & Science University. September 2021.
Ivermectin. National Institutes of Health. Accessed September 2021.
Ivermectin: A systematic review from antiviral effects to COVID-19 complementary regimen. The Journal of Antibiotics. June 2020.
Why you should not use ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 2021.
Ivermectin for preventing and treating COVID‐19. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. July 2021.
Page published in February 2021
Page updated in October 2021
Medically reviewed in September 2021