Coronavirus and Conjunctivitis – Connected Illnesses?

July 31, 2020

As we learn more and more about the coronavirus, quite a few of our assumptions and thoughts about the illness have changed – some dramatically. We now know that the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus are masking and social distancing; we know that some groups of people tend to fall ill in greater numbers and with more dangerous symptoms, and that your blood type may even be a factor in how likely you are to suffer the effects the virus.

When the first news bulletins hit the newsrooms about coronavirus, it was noted that approximately 1% to 3% of patients who contracted the illness could develop conjunctivitis, also called “pink eye”. A groundbreaking new study conducted by Dr. Liang Liang of the Ophthalmology Department at China Three Gorges University in Yichang, China found this number may actually be much higher.

Conjunctivitis is caused when the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent tissue that lines the inner eyelid and surface of the white of the eye becomes inflamed or infected. The small blood vessels in the eye become more visible, giving the eye a tell-tale pink cast. Most cases of conjunctivitis aren’t serious, but they can be very uncomfortable. It’s also highly contagious, just like the coronavirus.

In Dr. Liang’s study of 39 patients with COVID-19, 12 actually suffered from conjunctivitis, which is closer to 31% rather than the 1-3% previously reported. Two of the patients had virus fluid present in both their noses and their eyes. This leads experts to believe that someone with the virus could touch their eye, then touch someone else, transmitting the virus. The fact that the virus can exist in human eyes also means it’s possible to spread the virus through tears.

It was also noted in the March 31 online issue of JAMA Ophthalmology that patients with COVID-19 who develop pink eye often have more severe symptoms than those who don’t. The sicker you are, the more likely it is that the virus will present itself in multiple ways.

It’s also possible that conjunctivitis may be the first signal that a person has been infected with COVID-19. Dr. Prachi Dua, an ophthalmologist with the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, states "Patients and clinicians should be aware that COVID-19 can manifest with ocular redness, swelling and tearing. These patients should seek appropriate care for proper diagnosis and prevention of transmission."

On a positive note, it’s reassuring to know that the precautions we’re taking to suppress spread of the coronavirus are also helpful in preventing conjunctivitis. Make sure you wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer containing more than 60% alcohol. Take care not to touch your face, especially your eyes, nose or mouth. Whenever you’re in public, opt for wearing a mask, which will help contain the spread of the virus.

If you need vision correction, choose your eyeglasses over your contact lenses whenever possible. The less you touch your eyes – or anything that goes into your eyes – the less likely you’ll be to contract the virus. Your glasses will also give you additional protection from moisture droplets that infected persons may release into the air. Coronavirus has made it safer – and more fashionable – to wear glasses. If you need up update your style or get a backup pair, choose trendy designer frames that flatter your face shape and coloring.

If you have any questions about conjunctivitis, or think you may have it, don’t hesitate to call your eye doctor. At Pro-Optix Eye Care, we’re here to serve the Tanglewood/Galleria Area in any way we can. Don’t hesitate to call us at 713-360-7095, whenever you need us. Whether you need a vision test, an eye exam, new glasses or emergency treatment for an unexpected issue, you can trust your optometrist to care not only for your eyes, but for your overall health!

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