If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, the coronavirus, you could be experiencing a range of symptoms, including fever, chills, sore throat, dry cough and muscle aches. Now, studies have found that itchy, irritated eyes can also be a sign of COVID-19 infection. Here’s what you need to know.
Eye Discomfort and COVID-19
There are many reasons why people experience eye discomfort: Dry winter air, allergies and dry eye syndrome can all cause your eyes to feel itchy, gritty and uncomfortable. Now, a new study suggests that COVID-19 may also cause these symptoms.
A January 2022 retrospective study, published in Medical Principles and Practice, analyzed data from patients who were clinically diagnosed with conjunctivitis – also called “pink eye” – an inflammation of the conjunctiva, and who were later referred for PCR testing for COVID-19.
Symptoms that led to the diagnosis of conjunctivitis included eyelid pain or discomfort; a foreign body sensation in the eyes; itchiness; excessive watering; and crusting or flaking at the corners of the eyes.
Of the 672 cases sent for PCR testing after diagnosis of conjunctivitis, 121 (about 18%) were found to be positive for COVID-19.
The percentage of patients diagnosed with both conjunctivitis and COVID-19 was statistically significant enough to conclude that conjunctivitis could be a symptom of possible COVID-19 infection.
The researchers concluded that conjunctivitis can actually be the very first noticeable sign of COVID-19, since symptoms of conjunctivitis were often reported by COVID-positive patients several days before they noticed other symptoms more traditionally associated with the virus, such as fatigue, cough, fever and loss of taste or smell.
Furthermore, because conjunctivitis and its accompanying ocular itchiness and soreness can encourage a person to touch their eyes more often, it may increase the spread of COVID-19, the researchers said.
What To Do If Your Eyes Itch
If your eyes are itchy or sore, do your best not to touch or scratch them, as this can spread COVID-19 or another infection to the surfaces you touch. Wash your hands thoroughly and use doctor-prescribed eye drops when possible to alleviate symptoms.
Contact us at in if you are experiencing sore, irritated eyes, but follow local medical advice or contact your healthcare professional immediately if you suspect you have COVID-19. Health care professionals recommend taking a COVID test upon the first sign of symptoms to determine if you are COVID-positive and whether your symptoms could be linked to the virus.
If you are COVID-19 negative, your symptoms may be due to an eye infection, dry eye or another cause. Your optometrist can prescribe eye drops, medications or discuss a range of in-office treatments to relieve your symptoms.
Q & A
Can COVID-19 cause blurry vision?
COVID-19 does not cause blurry vision on its own. However, people with COVID-19 can experience extreme fatigue, which can affect the way the eyes function and the brain's ability to process visual information. This level of fatigue has been known to cause blurry vision, headaches or eye strain.
A 2020 study published in Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology suggests that blurry vision can, in very rare cases, result from conjunctivitis linked to COVID-19.
Can a COVID-19 vaccine cause vision-related side effects?
Of the 3 types of vaccines currently in use throughout the United States (Pfizer/Biontech, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna), none have reported direct side effects that affect a person’s vision.
In extremely rare cases, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been linked to TTS, which is a blood clotting condition that can cause blurry vision, among other symptoms. This occurred in only 1 out of every 3 million patients.
Another 8 out of every 1 million patients may experience Guillain-Barre syndrome in connection with the same vaccine. This can cause double vision and difficulty moving the eyes, among other neurological symptoms.