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What’s wrong with my eyes, doc?

I have been experiencing red, watery and itchy eyes over the past week. I have read reports that some people with COVID-19 developed symptoms affecting the eyes. Is conjunctivitis a symptom of COVID-19? What is the connection between pink eye, allergies and coronavirus?

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation or infection of the clear tissue over the whites of your eyes and the inside of your eyelids. It usually leads to redness and swelling of your eyes. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, or an allergy.

Several overseas studies published in late April 2020 examined the prevalence of pink eye in people with COVID-19. Out of the total 1,167 people with either mild or severe COVID-19, the researchers found that 0.7% of people with mild symptoms developed pink eye, while it occurred in 3% of people with severe symptoms.

The coronavirus is spread via respiratory droplets, but it can also be spread if people touch an object or surface with the virus, and then touch their mouths,
noses or eyes.


Is it allergies or COVID-19?
One easy way to tell the difference between allergy and coronavirus symptoms is to check your eyes. If they are red, watery and itchy, these are typically signs of allergies. It is important to note that viral conjunctivitis also causes burning and red eyes, but there is usually a watery discharge, which may feel slightly thicker and stickier than tears.

Another key difference between seasonal allergy symptoms and coronavirus symptoms is having a fever. Allergy sufferers do not have fever as a symptom, while coronavirus patients often do.

Doctors would be concerned about coronavirus possibility if you have signs of conjunctivitis along with these symptoms:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
  • bluish colour to lips or face
  • chest pain or pressure
  • being extremely tired
  • loss of smell or taste
  • feeling a new sense of confusion
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea

Prof Jodhbir Mehta
Head and Senior Consultant
Corneal & External Eye Disease Department, SNEC


Click here to check out other articles in SINGVISION Issue 1/2021.