Can You Catch COVID Through Your Eyes?
Coronavirus can spread through the eyes, just as it does through your nose and mouth. However, researchers are still studying the rate at which COVID-19 can spread this way.
Virus particles from an infected person can spray from their nose or mouth and into another person’s face. Depending on their proximity, you can breathe in the small droplets, or they can enter your body through your eyes.
You can also contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. This transmission route only accounts for a few cases and can be prevented through regular handwashing.
Current Research on COVID-19 Eye Transmission
Different studies have investigated the ocular interactions of COVID-19. They show a low possibility of COVID-19 transmission through the eyes.
One of the early studies from May 2020 showed that only a small percentage of patients (0 to 7.14 percent) had COVID-19 isolated in their tear films.3
In another study, a doctor discovered that samples taken from the back of the throat and nose of COVID-19 patients were full of the virus. Tear samples taken from their eyes during the same period were clear of the virus.4
A later study talked about ocular symptoms, such as conjunctivitis, may signal a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The study states that there's no proof that the eyes serve as an additional transmission route for the virus. However, researchers note that further research is needed regarding this matter. 5
How Can COVID Spread Through The Eyes?
While studies will continue to change regarding COVID-19, researchers have found that COVID-19 can spread through the eyes. There are two main hypotheses regarding COVID-19 transmission through the eyes:1
Direct Inoculation Through the Conjunctiva
Tiny drops and body fluids can easily infect the surface of the clear part of the eye (called the conjunctiva). The virus that affects the respiratory system can also cause respiratory infections when it enters through the eye.
Our eyes have mucosal membranes, which protect our bodies from the external environment. However, the virus that causes COVID-19 can use mucosal lining membranes as an entry point.2
Another hypothesis is that COVID-19 can spread through the nasolacrimal system. This is the system responsible for draining the tears into the lacrimal sac and the nasal cavity.
The hypothesis suggests that the nasolacrimal system may allow the virus to move from the eyes to the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. This can facilitate transmission and cause an infection.
There are different types of coronaviruses. Some produce minor cold symptoms, while others can cause severe respiratory illness.
COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is the novel coronavirus that began spreading worldwide in late 2019. The virus can produce mild to severe respiratory symptoms.
COVID-19 symptoms typically show up anywhere between 2 to 14 days after exposure. Some people are asymptomatic. The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pneumonia and/or breathing difficulties (severe cases), which can result in serious illness or death
COVID and Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is the medical term for pink eye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin layer of tissue covering the whites of your eye and lining your eyelids' inner portion.
COVID-19 can cause pink eye, but this is rare. If you have pink eye without any other COVID-19 symptoms, do not panic. It is likely related to a different viral or bacterial infection.
Eye conditions, such as eye redness, foreign body sensation, and tearing, are uncommon in people with COVID-19. Conjunctival symptoms more commonly affect severely ill patients. COVID-19 can worsen pre-existing eye diseases.
Keep in mind, though, that pink eye is very contagious. It can spread through the sticky or runny discharge from your eyes. If you have conjunctivitis, stay home from work or school for a few days.
COVID-19 Pandemic: Safety Tips & Eye Protection
To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce your risk of infection, practice the following eye protective strategies:
- Do not rub your eyes. Refrain from rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands whenever possible. Also, do not touch your face, nose, or mouth.
- Wear eyeglasses. If you wear contact lenses, you may switch from contacts to glasses. Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the average person. Glasses may protect them from respiratory droplets.
- Follow good contact lens hygiene. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before applying or removing your contact lenses.
- Stock up on eye medications. If you want to stay home as much as possible, your ophthalmologist will allow you to stock up on prescription eye medications for up to 3 months.
- Wash your hands often. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water throughout the day and whenever you return home.
- Wear face masks in public places. While mask mandates have been lifted in many places, wearing face masks can help protect you from respiratory droplets.
- Practice social distancing. Stand at least 6 feet away from people in public places and avoid close contact to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
- COVID-19 can spread through respiratory droplets and mucus in coughs and sneezes.
- While there’s a low risk of the virus spreading through your eyes and tears, it's still important to be cautious.
- Practice good hygiene and wear eyeglasses to protect your eyes from respiratory droplets.
In this article