Is pink eye a symptom of COVID-19?
The global COVID-19 pandemic has made people more aware of the various symptoms of coronavirus infections. COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 is slightly different from seasonal flu (flu A and B), and this has presented challenges to the healthcare system.
Is pink eye a sign of the COVID-19 virus?
The pink eye COVID symptom is a relative discovery. The pandemic began in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is believed that the virus started spreading in a seafood market in Wuhan, and this subsequently began the spread across China.
The newly discovered virus was first named NCOV (novel coronavirus) before the World Health Organization formally called it COVID-19. In one study, from the Three Gorges University, it was discovered that COVID-19 is causing patients to develop conjunctivitis or pink eye. Ocular symptoms were not widely documented before, but the rising number of cases suggests that these new symptoms might be something that we should be aware of. In general, coronaviruses cause ocular problems in various infected mammals, including humans.
What is worrying about the new symptoms of COVID-19, especially the pink eye, is there is now an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others. It has been found that the virus is present in the ocular secretions of people who have been found positive with COVID-19.
That means a COVID-19 patient can transmit the virus when he/she unknowingly wipes his/her tears on concrete surfaces. The face also becomes a hotspot for infection, so kissing the cheeks or just bringing your face close to someone in an affectionate manner can cause transmission of COVID-19.
How does conjunctivitis contribute to the pandemic?
An estimated 3% of COVID-19 patients develop conjunctivitis. This ocular condition causes inflammation of the thin, transparent tissue over the eyes. Other common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and cough (59-88% of patients). One study found that the pink eye develops more commonly in COVID-19 patients that are in the middle stages of the disease. More research is still required to determine if this is a typical reaction of the body to the virus.
Current data suggests that the pink eye is more common in people who have more severe symptoms of the disease. COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally and in the same manner.
Some people who have contracted it present no symptoms at all, or only very mild symptoms at that. The young and elderly are most at risk, presumably because they have weaker immune systems. In a study that involved more than one thousand patients who have mild and severe COVID-19 infections, only 1% of the patients presented symptoms of pink eye.
Within this 1%, only 0.7% of the moderate group presented symptoms. Within the severe group, 3% of the patients develop conjunctivitis. A separate study of 1,099 patients with COVID-19 in China showed that less than 1% of the patients developed pink eye (only 0.8%). The variability in the development of the symptoms indicates that the presence of pink eye varies per region and across the range of ages and severities of the disease across the world.
How can coronavirus get into your eyes?
From what we know, COVID-19 is highly transmittable through respiratory droplets or droplets that people eject when they cough and sneeze. Millions of viral particles can be released with a single sneeze or cough. When these viral particles are thrown out into the open, they can linger on different surfaces, including our hands when we touch contaminated surfaces. Viral particles of COVID-19 can get into the eyes, nose, and mouth, eventually causing an infection. However, current research shows that the risk of getting COVID-19 through our eyes is low compared to inhaling viral particles from the air. However, experts still suggest that we protect ourselves adequately. Eye protection is a good idea, especially when you are going out to do stuff in public. Our scientific knowledge of the novel coronavirus is also rapidly changing day by day, and there is a huge possibility that in the future, scientific research will revise its thoughts on the transmission of the virus through the eyes since there are plenty of human pathogens that can get into the body through the eyes.
How can you protect your eyes from COVID-19?
There are several ways to protect your eyes from COVID-19. If you wear contact lenses to aid your vision, you may want to switch to spectacles or glasses for now, as spectacles provide better protection from respiratory droplets and splashes. If you don’t wear glasses, you can wear either sunglasses or clear glasses outside when you need to go out. The glasses will shield your eyes from direct contact with the virus if you do encounter it outside your home.
Since you can rub the virus onto your eyes, we also recommend that you continue following the basic guidelines for keeping safe from COVID-19.
Remember to clean your hands for at least 20 seconds each time, with soap and warm water, if possible. Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth. Practice social distancing when you are outside and don’t get too close to people. Allow a distance of one to two meters when you are out in public.
Should you experience conjunctivitis, it does not automatically mean that you have COVID-19. Conjunctivitis is just a symptom, and it is not the disease. This applies to all kinds of symptoms, like having a congested nose or red eyes.
Your best recourse is to observe your symptoms first and then go to the doctor to get checked out. This applies to people who have fever and coughs – just because you have these symptoms doesn’t mean you have something serious. But still, it would be a good idea to get checked out when you feel something coming up.