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COVID-19 Symptom: Pink Eye

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

Overview

  • COVID conjunctivitis is an inflammation in the white part of the eye caused by the coronavirus.
  • Although pink eye can be a symptom of COVID-19, it can also have other possible causes, such as another virus, bacteria, or allergies.
  • Especially the new COVID variant Arcturus can cause conjunctivitis.

COVID conjunctivitis is one of the possible symptoms of an infection with the coronavirus. The Arcturus variant can affect the eyes more than other variants. In this article, we’ll guide you through the possible symptoms of conjunctivitis caused by COVID, the treatment options, and other possible causes of pink eye. 

Is pink eye a symptom of COVID?

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is a thin, clear membrane that helps protect the eyes. This membrane can be found on the inner part of your eyelids and the white part of your eyes. When this membrane gets inflamed, the most noticeable symptom is that the white part of your eyes may appear red or pink, with potential additional symptoms such as:1 2

  • Swelling of the conjunctiva and/or the eyelids
  • Increased tear production
  • Feeling as if something is present in the eyes
  • Itchy, irritated, or burning eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Crusty eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning 

There have been reports of conjunctivitis with COVID, making pink eye a possible COVID-19 symptom. One COVID strain, in particular, is known to cause pink eye more often than the other variants, the Arcturus variant.3

Although pink eye can be a symptom of COVID-19, there are also other possible causes of conjunctivitis. In general, there’s a distinction between 3 types of conjunctivitis:3

  • Infective conjunctivitis: caused by a virus or a bacteria
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: caused by allergens such as pollen or dust mites
  • Irritant conjunctivitis: caused by a fluid or foreign object which comes into contact with the eyes and irritates the conjunctiva. This can be various things, such as shampoo, sand, or eyelashes.

When a viral infection such as COVID causes conjunctivitis, the symptoms usually start in one eye and then spread to the other within days. The discharge from the eye is also usually more watery than a bacterial infection, which typically causes thick discharge that can cause the eyelids to stick together. 

As COVID-19 and allergies can cause similar symptoms, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two. Allergic conjunctivitis usually occurs in both eyes and often causes intense itching, tearing, and swelling in the eyes. There are also many symptoms which can point to a COVID infection, such as: 4 5

If you are in doubt about what is causing your conjunctivitis, then it’s recommended to get tested for COVID. You can do so by getting a PCR or antigen test. Both test methods require a swab from the back of the throat or the nose, which can then be analyzed. The biggest difference between both test methods is that the PCR test has a higher sensitivity, meaning there’s a greater chance of detecting COVID if infected.6

Treatment of COVID conjunctivitis

COVID conjunctivitis often goes away on its own without any additional treatment. However, you can use cold compresses and artificial tears to help relieve the inflammation and dryness in the eyes. It’s important to stop wearing contact lenses if you usually do so until your doctor says it’s okay for you to wear them again or until you no longer have any symptoms of pink eye.

Although most cases do not require additional treatment, it’s essential to monitor your symptoms and to seek help from a healthcare professional if you experience any of the following symptoms:7

  • Pain in the eyes
  • Intense redness of the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision, which does not improve when the discharge is wiped from the eyes
  • A weakened immune system due to HIV, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions or treatments 

If you have conjunctivitis and other symptoms of COVID-19, then it’s recommended to treat your other symptoms as well. You can do so using home remedies such as: 8 9

  • Resting as much as possible
  • Taking a painkiller such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Drinking enough water

Monitoring your symptoms is crucial, and it’s essential to reach out to your doctor for additional treatment if you experience any of the following:9

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Feeling extremely weak and struggling with basic tasks
  • You cannot stop shaking or shivering
  • Your symptoms are gradually getting worse
  • You continue to feel unwell for several weeks

Duration of COVID conjunctivitis

COVID conjunctivitis usually clears up within 7 to 14 days without long-term consequences. In some cases, you can experience symptoms for up to 2 to 3 weeks. In general, there’s a lot of variation in the duration of COVID-19 symptoms, with some people not experiencing any symptoms at all and others experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 long after they’ve been infected. This situation is defined as long COVID

Wrapping up

Pink eye is a possible COVID-19 symptom that causes the white part of the eyes to become irritated, red, and itchy. Conjunctivitis usually goes away independently, and you use artificial tears and cold compresses to relieve your symptoms. It's essential to keep monitoring your situation when you have COVID so that you can contact your healthcare provider in case your symptoms worsen. 

FAQs

Q: Is pink eye a sign of COVID?
A: Pink eye is one of the possible symptoms of an infection with the coronavirus. Especially the Arcturus variant can cause conjunctivitis. 

Q: What does COVID pink eye look like?
A: COVID pink eye is often characterized by redness in the eyes, which can go together with swelling and an itchy feeling. This condition often causes the eyes to feel very irritated. 

Q: How to treat COVID conjunctivitis? 
A: COVID conjunctivitis often clears up on its own without any treatment. To relieve your symptoms, you can use cold compresses and artificial tears. 

Q: How long does COVID pink eye last? 
A: Pink eye caused by COVID usually takes 1 to 2 weeks to clear up. In some cases, this period can extend for up to 3 weeks.