The most common symptoms of the coronavirus COVID-19 are a fever, coughing, and breathing problems. COVID-19 gets passed on primarily through droplets from a cough or a sneeze. These particles most often enter through your nose or mouth as well as your eyes. It’s also possible to catch the virus if you touch a contaminated countertop, doorknob, or other surfaces. But this doesn’t seem to be the main way the virus spreads. It’s important to wash your hands regularly, as well as your eyewear with soap and water.
With proper hygiene, there is currently no evidence that wearing contact lenses in itself increases your risk of infection from COVID-19. Rarely, however, the virus can cause an eye infection called conjunctivitis.
Based on data so far, doctors believe that 1%-3% of people with COVID-19 will get conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye. It happens when the virus infects a tissue called conjunctiva, which covers the white part of your eye or the inside of your eyelids. If you notice that your eyes are red, swollen or itchy, these are all symptoms to be aware of.
If you have conjunctivitis, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have COVID-19. The more likely causes are the many different viruses, bacteria, chemicals, and allergens that can irritate your eyes. Many forms of conjunctivitis go away with over-the-counter treatments in about 1-2 weeks.
But if you also have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, ask your doctor what, if anything, you should do. Call before you head to a hospital or a medical center to see if it’s safe for you to visit and for any instructions for your arrival.
If you have conjunctivitis from COVID-19, you may infect others with the virus if you touch your eyes and then touch people or surfaces without washing or disinfecting your hands. Avoid touching your face, especially the mucous membranes in your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Can COVID-19 cause temporary or permanent damage to your eyes?
Although conjunctivitis, which is a temporary condition, has been linked to COVID-19, at this point permanent eye damage from COVID-19 has not been reported. If a patient were in respiratory distress long enough, theoretically poor perfusion and oxygen deprivation could lead to possible damage to metabolically active tissues, such as the optic nerve or retina, but this has yet to be reported in COVID-19 related cases. In this instance, eye damage would be caused by decreased oxygen, rather than the virus itself.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted through tear droplets and is this something to worry about?
Transmission through infected ocular tissue or fluid has been controversial. Novel coronavirus has been detected in tear samples in a small number of cases. Given the presence of viral particles, it is, therefore, possible to transmit COVID-19, although the risk is likely low. However, the infectivity or clinical significance is not known and additional studies are needed at this time.
Seeing Your Doctor
You should contact your doctor immediately if you notice eye symptoms, or are experiencing any COVID-19 symptom, especially if you have:
- Macular degeneration
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Regular eye injections
- Loss of vision or changes like blank spots or flashes
- Painful or red eyes, headache, nausea, and vomiting
And be sure to contact your doctor immediately and schedule a test if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or if you’ve had contact with people who are sick. Your doctor may suggest a virtual visit over your computer or smartphone.
At Treasure Coast Opticians, your health and vision is our number one priority. A mask policy is in place. Counters and work areas are thoroughly disinfected. Hands are washed between customers.
Together we’ll get through this challenging time so we can direct our focus toward a brighter future.
Treasure Coast Opticians
715 17th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960
Open M-F 9-5:30, Sat by appointment.
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Sources: webmd.com / hscnews.usc.edu