Posted on: April 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, health officials have been warning the public to watch out for symptoms of the virus: fever, cough, and shortness of breath [1].

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As the virus has spread, however, other symptoms have begun to arise, such as the loss of taste and smell [2]. Other research has shown that digestive symptoms are commonly associated with the virus, and some cases show no symptoms at all.

New research has emerged that suggests another symptom is linked to the virus, this time in the eyes. Researchers in China have now reported that Pink Eye can also be a symptom of COVID-19 [3].

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What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is the inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye. This membrane is known as the conjunctiva.

This membrane is full of tiny blood cells, but when they are inflamed, they become more visible, making your eye look pink or red. The condition is usually caused by a bacteria or virus, or an allergic reaction.

It does not usually affect your vision, but can be highly uncomfortable and fairly contagious in its early stages, so early diagnosis and treatment are important in order to prevent the infection from spreading.

Symptoms of pink eye include redness, itchiness, or a gritty feeling in one or both eyes. Often there is a discharge that comes from the infected eye that hardens overnight and makes it difficult to open your eye in the morning [4].

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Read: How To Protect Yourself From COVID-19 According To A Lung Doctor

Pink Eye and COVID-19

The researchers from China reported that out of the 38 patients involved in the study, twelve of them had pink eye, and suggested that it is possible for the virus to be spread through tears.

Dr. Liang Liang of the ophthalmology department at China Three Gorges University in Yichang explained that the coronavirus may invade the conjunctiva in patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.

“Some COVID-19 patients have ocular symptoms, and maybe novel coronaviruses are present in the conjunctival secretions of patients with COVID-19,” he said [3].

This provides another way for the virus to be transmitted from one person to the next. If an infected person rubs their eyes and then touches someone else, they could transfer the virus to that person. Transmission could also occur during an eye exam [3].

Precautions to Prevent the Spread

This information means that it is even more important to take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus. Along with protective clothing such as caps and gloves, Liang suggests that doctors and nurses who are looking after patients wear protective glasses as well.

Dr. Prachi Dua, an ophthalmologist at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, explains that while conjunctivitis remains a rare symptom of the COVID-19 virus, it should not be overlooked.

“Patients and clinicians should be aware that COVID-19 can manifest with ocular redness, swelling and tearing,” she said [3].

Dr. Alfred Sommer, a professor of epidemiology and international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, notes that it is important for people to be aware that this is another way they could spread the infection to others, and that guidelines from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommend that regular eye exams should be postponed during the pandemic.

Unless you have an emergency that could affect your vision, any routine eye check-ups, new glasses, etc. can wait until a later, safer date [3].

Read: Don’t Just Avoid the Virus — Help Defeat It by Strengthening Your Immunity

Recommendations

This is yet another reason why proper, frequent handwashing is vital in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as well as avoiding touching your eyes and face.

Sonal Tuli, MD, ophthalmologist, and spokesperson for the AAO, recently advised that those who wear contacts should stick to wearing glasses for the remainder of the pandemic.

“Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in,” said Dr. Tuli. “Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your face,” [5].

He also added that if you feel the urge to itch or rub your eye, or even if you want to adjust your glasses, you should use a tissue. Additionally, if you have dry eyes, he suggests adding moisturizing drops to your routine, since dryness can lead to rubbing [5].

Kevin Lee, MD, eye physician & surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates within the Pacific Vision Eye Institute in San Francisco, says that if you choose to continue wearing contact lenses, handwashing is even more crucial.

He also warns against sharing items such as cosmetics or eye drops for the time being. 

“It’s possible for the tip of the eye dropper or mascara to be contaminated by coming into contact with the ocular secretions of someone who is COVID-positive,” he said [5].

As always, if you think you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself immediately, and contact your doctor or local health department right away. If we can improve our ability to detect the virus, we will be much better able to prevent its spread.

Keep Reading: Coronavirus Could Travel 27 feet, Stay in Air for Hours: MIT Researcher

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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