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The Impact of COVID-19 on Eye Health

  • 27 July, 2021

    The impact of COVID-19 on eye health

    What is COVID-19?

    Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.1 It is commonly abbreviated as COVID-19, with, “CO” standing for corona, “VI” for virus, and ”D” for disease.


    How does COVID-19 spread? 

    The virus is primarily spread via person-to-person contact, through the release of respiratory droplets when an infected person breaths, coughs, or sneezes. It can also be spread via indirect contact, for example if a person touches the same object as an infected person, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes. COVID-19 is highly infectious and spreads easily from person to person.


    People who are infected but do not show symptoms can also spread the virus to others. On average it takes 5–6 days from the time of infection for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.2 How easily a virus spreads from person to person can vary.1 The virus that causes COVID-19 appears to spread more efficiently than influenza but not as efficiently as measles, which is among the most contagious viruses known to affect people.


    What are the symptoms? 

    COVID-19 affects people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalisation.

    The most common symptoms of COVID are:

    • fever
    • dry cough
    • tiredness


    Other less common symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, headaches, muscle or joint pain, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell, altered sense of taste, loss of appetite and conjunctivitis.


    Can COVID 19 affect your eyes? 

    Yes. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified conjunctivitis as a less common symptom of COVID-19 infection.1 Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue which covers the white part of the eyeball.

    Cases of conjunctivitis vary from 4% to 31% among those with a confirmed case of COVID.4 Signs of conjunctivitis are typically red, sore, watery eyes. This can be accompanied by itchiness and light sensitivity.

    Conjunctivitis is a common condition overall with many causes including bacteria, allergens and viruses, so your Optometrist is well trained to lookout for the signs of COVID related conjunctivitis.


    Can COVID-19 be transmitted via the eyes?

    Yes, although attaining COVID-19 infection through the eyes is much less common than through the nose or mouth. The eye is more likely to be infected secondary to the primary infection, i.,e a contaminated hand touches or rubs the eye.3 This is why good hand hygiene is so important.



    To prevent infection and slow the transmission of COVID-19, the following is recommended:

    • Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel, and staying away from large groups of people, especially those with cold like symptoms i.e. coughing or sneezing
    • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub
    • Wear a mask when possible
    • Avoid touching your face
    • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
    • Stay home if you feel unwell


    Take home messages 

    COVID-19 infected persons may develop conjunctivitis, which is characterised by sore, red, watery eyes.  Your eye care professional will be on the lookout for any such presentation and take necessary steps to prevent the spread of the disease. The eye can be a transmission route for COVID-19 if a contaminated hand touches or rubs the eye, so it’s of vital importance to wash your hands and avoid touching your face.



    1 World Health Organisation, “COVID-19 Clinical management: living guidance,” 2021.

    2 Australian Government – Department of Health, “What you need to know about coronavirus (COVID-19),” 2021.

    3 Pradhan S, Vaughan M, Zhang J, et al Sore eyes as the most significant ocular symptom experienced by people with COVID-19: a comparison between pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19 states. BMJ Open Ophthalmology 2020;5:e000632. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2020-000632

    4 Dawood AA. Transmission of SARS CoV-2 virus through the ocular mucosa worth taking precautions. 2021;22(1):56-57. doi:10.1016/j.vacune.2021.01.007


    Hannah Maher


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