Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments.
The disease COVID-19 caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has caused millions of of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.
While COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, some people have experienced other symptoms like conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye.
The coronavirus can spread if you touch your eyes after touching an infected surface. It also can spread when an affected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks. Viral particles can be sprayed into your eyes if you are in close contact (within 6 feet) of that person.
Read on for more information about COVID-19’s effect on your eyes and how you can take care of your eyes.
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Is Pink Eye a Symptom of COVID-19?
Pink eye is a common condition in the U.S. Symptoms include redness in and around the eye, swelling, itchiness/burning, watery eyes, and eye discharge. Viruses are among the causes of pink eye, along with bacteria, allergies, and irritants like smoke.
A March 2020 study in Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology looked for eye-related conditions in COVID-19 patients in China. The study found that some of the tested patients had pink eye.
However, the chances of the coronavirus causing pink eye are small. More common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have pink eye but don’t have other COVID-19 symptoms, it’s unlikely that you have COVID-19.
Can the Coronavirus Spread Through My Eyes?
The coronavirus spreads through airborne droplets. When someone infected coughs, sneezes, or talks, it releases tiny droplets that can land in the mouth, nose, or eyes of someone in close contact.
The virus also can spread if you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose without washing your hands.
Because it is possible for the coronavirus to spread by touching your eyes, it’s important to closely follow prevention tips. Those include:
- Avoid touching your face: Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, and especially when your hands are unwashed.
- Wash your hands regularly: Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds before rinsing. If you don’t have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Wash after coughing or sneezing, before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching common surfaces, and after being in the public.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces: This includes doorknobs, tabletops, countertops, phones, remote controls, and more. Use a household cleaner or sanitizer and follow the instructions.
- Follow social distancing guidelines: Stay home; when you do go out, avoid large gatherings. If in the public (i.e. the grocery store), stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- Wear a facemask in the public: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a cloth facemask in crowded public places like grocery stores and pharmacies. You can make one yourself without needing to sew.
Should I Wear Contacts During COVID-19?
There is no current evidence that the coronavirus can spread through contact lenses. However, putting contact lenses in and taking them out requires you to touch your face. To stay safe, make sure you wash your hands before and after you handle your contact lenses.
You also may want to consider wearing glasses instead of contacts, as glasses could provide another layer of protection for your eyes.
Can I Visit My Eye Doctor During COVID-19?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ophthalmologists are only taking appointments for urgent care or eye-threatening conditions.
If you do have a severe condition, you should contact your doctor. Severe conditions include:
- Sudden vision loss
- Macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy that requires laser treatment or eye injections
- Vision-threatening glaucoma
- Vision changes, like shadows or dark curtains in your vision
- Sudden eye pain, headache, red eye, nausea, or vomiting
You also can schedule a MyUPMC video visit with one of our eye doctors. Our providers can evaluate your eyes and recommend additional care if needed.
For more information, call the UPMC Eye Center at (412) 647-2200
About UPMC Vision Institute
The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.