COVID-19 affects people differently, so it can be tricky to pinpoint which symptoms indicate the presence of the virus. As a virus that affects the respiratory system, the primary symptoms of coronavirus are fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. Other less common symptoms include sore throat, headache, aches and muscle pain and loss of smell or taste. These symptoms can take anywhere from two to 14 days to appear.
Some medical experts have suggested that pink eye, which is also called conjunctivitis, may be a possible symptom of COVID-19. Pink eye is an inflammation of the thin clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye and also lines the inside of the eyelid. This tissue, called the conjunctiva, is very sensitive and can be inflamed by bacteria, irritants like smoke and pool chlorine, allergies and viruses including the one that causes the common cold. Pink eye appears as a pink or red color in the white of the eye and can increase the eye’s production of tears and discharge. While it can be itchy and uncomfortable, pink eye on its own is not a serious health risk and is unlikely to damage the eye’s vision.
Currently, there is very little evidence that pink eye is a consistent symptom of the coronavirus, and the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control do not list it as a major symptom. The coronavirus can be spread through the eyes, nose, and mouth if an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks closely enough to spread virus particles. While it is possible for the virus to be introduced through the eyes, it is much more likely that you will breathe it in through either your nose or your mouth. Pink eye may appear in some cases; however, research and evidence indicate it is a symptom in less than 1% of all COVID-19 cases.
If you have developed pink eye and are uncertain whether it could be related to a possible coronavirus infection, contact your physician over the phone or through a virtual visit. You may be asked a series of questions to identify the potential origin of the pink eye infection and to rule out other causes such as seasonal allergies or a reaction to a new bath or body product. If your doctor has cause for concern, they will advise the next steps which may include a visit to your ophthalmologist or a COVID-19 test (if necessary).
One of the prevention strategies that we started to communicate early on was to avoid touching your face as much as possible. The eye’s mucous membrane is very thin and susceptible to the transmission of the virus. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has also suggested switching to glasses temporarily if you use contact lenses, to limit the amount that you touch your eyes each day. If you continue to use contacts, be extra careful to follow eye hygiene tips like handwashing and using fresh solution during each application. While certainly not 100% effective, wearing corrective lenses and sunglasses can reduce your exposure to the virus during outings and encounters when other social distancing measures are also in place.
For the latest updates from Ochsner on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/coronavirus
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.