Ophthalmologists warn pink eye may be a less common COVID-19 symptom

ByMartha R. Camara

Mar 26, 2020

Illustration of two eyes. The one on the left is clear and the one on the right has a pink eye

A new alert released Wednesday by the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggested that pink eye may be a symptom, albeit a rare one, of COVID-19.

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV2) is a virus that primarily causes a respiratory infection, with symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Emerging research has also indicated that the coronavirus can cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting in about 20% of patients. Other reports have revealed that a sudden loss of smell or taste can also be a symptom of COVID-19.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology released its new pink eye guidelines for ophthalmologists after several preliminary studies and anecdotal reports found COVID-19 patients presenting with pink eye. Viral pink eye (or conjunctivitis) causes redness in the whites of the eyes, a burning sensation, and a watery discharge. It is highly contagious and caused by swelling and redness due to inflammation. Pink eye is known to occur with other types of viral infections, including the common cold.

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A small study of patients in China with COVID-19 found that one of 30 patients included in the study had pink eye. Notably, the researchers found traces of the SARS-CoV2 virus in the ocular secretions of this patient, but not the 29 patients without pink eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology clarified in another study that COVID-19 infection through tears, however, is unlikely. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a small percentage of COVID-19 patients – nearly 1% – had pink eye as a symptom.

Although pink eye appears to be rare in patients with COVID-19, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has advised its members to take extra precautions when patients present with pink eye, particularly if they present with other symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have recently visited an area with a major outbreak. . The organization also told ophthalmologists to be sure to sterilize properly and reminded patients to avoid touching their eyes and to be alert to their potential symptoms.

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“While it appears that conjunctivitis is a rare occurrence when it comes to COVID-19, other forms of conjunctivitis are common,” the Academy wrote in its alert. “Affected patients frequently present to eye clinics or emergency departments. This increases the likelihood that ophthalmologists will be the first providers to assess patients potentially infected with COVID-19. »

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