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Coronavirus and the Eye

Coronavirus and the Eye

As the global coronavirus outbreak is spreading, we are learning more and more about the virus and how it manifests in different patients.  The following is a summary of what little we know about the eye involvement in a patient with Coronavirus


What is this Virus?

Coronaviruses are relatively well-known and common viruses.  Some of these viruses only infect animals such as bats but some can cause infections in humans as well.  The current infection is caused by a new coronavirus called COVID-19. The virus can cause a spectrum of infections ranging from minor cold symptoms to severe pneumonia and respiratory failure.


Can Coronavirus Cause Eye Infections?

The short answer is in some cases yes.  So far two reports suggest the virus can cause conjunctivitis (commonly referred to as pink eye)  and possibly be transmitted by aerosol contact with eye surface. Both of these reports are from China.  

In one report 1 patient out of 30 patients who were hospitalized for Coronavirus infection had conjunctivitis with virus cultured from the eye.  Another report also from China showed 9 patients out of 1,099 with confirmed Coronavirus infection also had conjunctivitis with the virus. 

While we cannot draw any definitive conclusions from these studies, it appears that the virus in a small number of patients can cause eye infections. Since there are so many unknowns about this virus, we cannot determine whether hand to eye contact can lead to transmission of the virus from one patient to another.


What are Some of the Things that Patients Need to Know?

The list below is by no means comprehensive as it pertains mainly to the eyes.  For a more comprehensive recommendation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website provides an extensive list of information for the public

  1. Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes. 
  2. If your eyes are dry, use artificial tears as it may alleviate the need for eye rubbing
  3. If you wear contact lenses, consider switching to glasses for the duration of the pandemic.  Wearing glasses can decrease the urge to touch your eyes. In addition, it may help decrease the chance of droplets getting into your eyes.  If you do decide to continue your contact lenses, make sure you wash your hands well before handling contact lenses and solutions.
  4. If you use eye drops on a regular basis such as treatment of glaucoma or other eye conditions, make sure the bottle tips are clean and again make sure to wash your hands before using the eye drops
  5. If you develop symptoms suggestive of conjunctivitis or pink eyes and also have a cough or fever, contact your eye care provider and let them know about the symptoms.  They may instruct you to see your primary care doctor first to be tested prior to having your eyes examined
  6. Above all, use common sense and follow the recommendation of public health officials to stay healthy
Vahid Feiz

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