As COVID-19 cases continue to rise during the winter season, it’s important to consider the serious impact it can have on your health. Although much remains unknown when it comes to the virus, we know it can negatively impact your breathing, concentration, sleep and mental health, among many other symptoms. But how does COVID-19 affect our eyes?
COVID & eye health
We continue to learn about the effects of COVID-19 on eye health. However, there is still much we do not know. What we do know is that the virus can affect almost every part of the eye and visual system. Most commonly, COVID-19 patients may develop conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” with symptoms such as redness, tearing and irritation. As conjunctivitis can be a presenting finding, patients who develop those symptoms should get tested for COVID-19.
Inflammation can occur in various parts of the eye in COVID-19 patients, including the sclera (wall of the eye), retina, optic nerve and the inside of the eye (called uveitis). If the muscles are inflamed, it can also cause trouble with eye movement.
Fortunately, while some of these conditions can be serious and lead to vision loss, it is not a common occurrence.
Transmission of COVID-19 is still believed to be primarily through respiratory droplets from person to person. The evidence of ocular transmission, or transmission via the eyes, has not been well studied. However, Dr. Annie Nguyen at USC Roski Eye Institute says that mucous membranes are most susceptible to the novel coronavirus. These mucous membranes line many body cavities and organs, including the respiratory tract, but also the surfaces of your eyeball and eyelids. Because the virus can live on surfaces up to a few days, touching an infected surface and then your eyes may theoretically lead to contracting the virus ocularly. Those who wear contacts should be sure to wash their hands before handling their contact lenses. Pink eye continues to be the most common sign of COVID-19 in the eyes, especially in children.
Who’s at risk of COVID-related eye complications?
As previously mentioned, very few people with COVID-19 will experience serious eye-related complications. However, certain people are at greater risk, including those with diabetes, high blood pressure, blood disorders and other conditions that affect the blood vessels. When eye problems do occur, they usually develop within 1 to 6 weeks of experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Protecting Yourself from COVID-19
To protect yourself and those around you, it’s crucial to wear a mask, practice proper hand-hygiene and get vaccinated. If you’ve contracted COVID-19 and you’ve experienced eye issues, be sure to schedule a routine eye appointment after completing your required isolation period to prevent vision and eye complications.