Updated on  February 5, 2024
3 min read

Burning Eyes: COVID-19 or Allergies?

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COVID-19 has several side effects that range from uncomfortable to fatal. Allergies and coronavirus (COVID-19) can have similar symptoms.  

For example, burning and watery eyes can be a symptom of COVID-19. Although these symptoms may not indicate COVID-19, red and irritated eyes may be.3

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

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

Although contracting and spreading the virus through your eye is rare, it can happen.5 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 Conversely, you can spread the virus by rubbing your eyes before touching surfaces. 9

Can Coronavirus Affect Your Eyes?

Ocular symptoms like burning eyes can also be a symptom of COVID-19. Although rare, it’s 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

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, other eye conditions you may experience include:

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

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.

How to Tell the Difference Between COVID-19 & Eye Conditions?

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.

If both of your eyes are red, watery, and itchy, you’re probably experiencing allergic conjunctivitis. COVID symptoms don’t typically cause watery or itchy eyes. However, 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 will likely have other symptoms like a sore throat, sneezing, etc. It also causes itchiness, burning red eyes, or mucus/watery discharge.2

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

More Reading


COVID-19 can potentially affect your eyes, causing symptoms similar to eye allergies. Contracting and spreading the virus through your eyes is possible, but it is rare. 

By practicing good hygiene habits, you can protect yourself and your eyes from COVID-19. This includes washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and practicing social distancing.

Talk to your doctor if you have pink eye with other COVID-19 symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms like fever and chills aren’t generally associated with allergies.

Updated on  February 5, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on  February 5, 2024
  1. Ask the Expert: How Covid-19 Affects the Eyes.” USC Roski Eye Institute, 2021.
  2. Boyd, K. “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. Wu, P. “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.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.