Updated on  February 3, 2023
4 min read

Burning Eyes: COVID-19 or Allergies

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Allergy and coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms can be similar. For example, they can both cause burning and watery eyes. While having burning eyes does not mean that you have COVID-19, eyes that feel red and irritated may be a symptom of COVID-19.3

Can Coronavirus Affect Your Eyes?

COVID-19 has several side effects that range from uncomfortable to fatal. 

Ocular symptoms like burning eyes can also be a symptom of COVID-19. It's rare but possible to develop pink eye (conjunctivitis) with COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common coronavirus symptoms generally include the following: 10

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Muscle aches
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Loss of taste
  • Loss of smell

One study from China, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated hospitalized patients with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19. It found that conjunctivitis symptoms occurred in just 0.8 percent of those coronavirus patients.6

Connection Between COVID-19, Allergies, and Pink Eye

COVID-19, allergies, and pink eye share some common symptoms. For example, COVID-19 and allergies can both cause:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye swelling
  • Pink eye

Some people with COVID-19 have reported developing pink eye, among other allergy symptoms.2 Conjunctivitis may be either allergic or viral.

Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes, which may feel itchy and burn. The eyes may also appear puffy. Typically, other symptoms, like sneezing and a runny nose, are also present with allergic conjunctivitis.2

Viral conjunctivitis tends to be isolated to the eyes. However, if someone contracts viral conjunctivitis from the common cold, they are likely to have other symptoms (e.g., sore throat, sneezing, and stuffy nose). It also causes itchy, burning red eyes. Mucus or watery discharge may also occur.2

Talk to a doctor if you have pink eye in combination with any of the above COVID-19 symptoms. Many common COVID-19 symptoms, like fever and chills, are not generally associated with allergies.

Other Eye Conditions Associated With Coronavirus

COVID-19 can affect your whole body with mild to severe symptoms. Some coronavirus symptoms include eye-related symptoms similar to allergy symptoms.

For example, similar to seasonal eye allergy symptoms, you may experience:

  • Ocular itching
  • Ocular redness
  • Irritated eyes, if you develop conjunctivitis
  • Eyes that feel heavy from fatigue or irritated from headaches

Can You Contract/Spread COVID-19 Through Your Eyes?

While ocular transmission has not been well researched, it is possible.1 This is because the body’s mucous membranes are the most susceptible parts of your body to the coronavirus and other viruses in general.

Contracting and spreading coronavirus through your eyes is rare.5 But it can happen. 

If someone infected sneezes, coughs, or breathes around you, the tiny particles can enter your eyes. You can also contract coronavirus if you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes.9

Similarly, if you rub your eyes when you have COVID-19, and then touch surfaces, you can spread the virus.9

How to Protect Yourself (& Your Eyes) Against Coronavirus

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself, including your eyes, from COVID-19. Here are some simple ways to keep yourself healthy: 4

  • Frequently wash your hands
  • Use alcohol-based disinfectants to clean surfaces around you
  • Do not touch your face

Remember that the ocular surface of your eyes already has protective barriers, like antimicrobial proteins and natural lubricants. This means regularly washing or flushing your eyes may have adverse effects. It can strip them of these barriers and increase your risk of infection.1

If your eyes are burning or irritated, you can do the following to alleviate symptoms:

  • Use eye drops to reduce burning or irritation
  • Change your pillowcases and use fresh towels every day
  • If you wear contact lenses, consider switching to glasses for awhile

Practicing safe social distancing can also protect you from contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Read More: How to Improve Your Eyesight


COVID-19 has the potential to affect your eyes, causing symptoms similar to eye allergies. It is possible to contract and spread the virus through your eyes, but it is rare.

To protect yourself and your eyes from COVID-19, practice good hygiene habits. Frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your face. 

Updated on  February 3, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on  February 3, 2023
  1. Ask the Expert: How Covid-19 Affects the Eyes.” USC Roski Eye Institute, 2021.
  2. Boyd, Kierstan. “Is It COVID-19 Or Allergies?American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2021.
  3. Coronavirus and Your Eyes.” American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  4. Coronavirus.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization.
  5. Eye Care during COVID-19: MASKS, Vaccines and Procedures.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2021.
  6. Ping Wu, MD. “Characteristics of Ocular Findings of Patients With Coronavirus DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) in Hubei Province, China.” JAMA Ophthalmology, JAMA Network, 2020. 
  7. Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 92020.
  8. Signs and Symptoms of Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  9. Stepko, Barbara. “Can You Catch Coronavirus through Your Eyes?AARP, 2020.
  10. Symptoms of Covid-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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