Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is a monogenic but multifactorial disease vulnerable to environmental triggers. Little is known about how LHON onset changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and how non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPHIs) against COVID-19 impact LHON onset. One hundred and forty-seven LHON patients with the m.11778G>A mutation complaining of vision loss were involved between January 2017 and July 2022. The onset time points, age of onset, and possible risk factors were evaluated. Analyses were conducted among 96 LHON patients in the Pre-COVID-19 group and 51 in the COVID-19 group. The median (IQR) age of onset decreased significantly from 16.65 (13.739, 23.02) in pre-COVID-19 to 14.17 (8.87, 20.29) during COVID-19. Compared with the Pre-COVID-19 group, the COVID-19 group exhibited bimodal distribution with an additional peak at six; the first quarter of 2020 also witnessed a relatively denser onset, with no subsequent second spike. NPHIs against COVID-19 significantly changed patients' lifestyles, including higher secondhand smoke exposure (p < 0.001), adherence to masks (p < 0.001), reduction in time spent outdoors for leisure (p = 0.001), and prolonged screen time (p = 0.007). Multivariate logistic regression revealed that secondhand smoke exposure and mask-wearing were independent risk factors of younger LHON onset. Lower age of onset of LHON appeared after the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and novel risk factors were detected, including secondhand exposure and long mask-wearing. Carriers of LHON mtDNA mutations, especially teenagers or children, should be advised to avoid secondhand smoke exposure and there are possible adverse outcomes of longer mask-wearing.
Keywords: COVID-19; Leber hereditary optic neuropathy; age of onset; m.11778G>A; risk factors.