See Here… Eye-Opening Research About COVID Revealed
Me: My eyes have been aching the past couple days.
Friend: Maybe you have COVID.
Friend: Yeah, aching eyes is one of the symptoms of the Omicron variant.
Me: Since when?
Friend: Well, for a while, probably. But the British Medical Journal recently published something about it.
Me: Hmmm. I’ll have to check that out.
The Eyes Have It
So, I did. Sure enough, a recent research study published in the journal BMJ Open Ophthalmology revealed that a COVID infection can have an impact on our eyes.
In fact, what may seem like an eye-related problem might be better diagnosed initially by a COVID test rather than a visit to the eye doctor. Of course, you should still see your ophthalmologist, but get checked for COVID first.
Now, the most likely symptoms from an Omicron infection continue to be cough, fever, and loss or change in taste or smell. Plus sore throat, brain fog and fatigue.
But aching eyes, including a more pronounced sensitivity to light than normal, might indicate a COVID infection.
Those who test positive for COVID who also have eye issues usually report vision problems, red or bloodshot eyes, or aching in the eyes.
Light Sensitivity & Blurry Vision
The study included 83 participants, including patients who tested positive for COVID. The answers to their questionnaires indicated that eye problems were common.
Most reported photophobia, which is an increased sensitivity to light causing discomfort. That was the most frequent symptom.
But the most significant symptom was aching eyes. Additionally, many had blurry vision and/or bloodshot eyes.
A small percentage of the participants who tested positive for COVID reported conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye lining), even when other symptoms were mild or non-existent.
Sore Eyes a COVID Symptom
In the study, there was no significant difference in eye symptoms between males and females.
About 81% of the participants said their eye symptoms did not appear until two weeks after they had experienced other COVID symptoms.
And 80% reported that their eye-related problems had dissipated after two weeks.
The journal’s conclusion reads, in part, “The most significant ocular symptom experienced by people suffering from COVID-19 was sore eyes. Other symptoms associated with other types of conjunctivitis, such as mucus discharge and gritty eyes linked to bacterial infection, did not reach significance.”
Eye Issues Can Persist
According to the Mayo Clinic, conjunctivitis can be a COVID symptom. They say the most common eye problems linked to COVID are light sensitivity, sore eyes and itchy eyes.
An article published by Scientific American reports that approximately 11% of people who test positive for COVID develop some type of eye or ear problem.
Those problems include red eyes, sensitivity to light and ringing ears. And sometimes those issues persist well after other COVID symptoms have subsided.
The takeaway here, according to the article’s authors, is that people may need to broaden the scope of warning signs to watch for regarding when to get tested for COVID.
Early Clues Were There
Lee Gehrke is a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said, “The data are growing to suggest that there are more neural consequences of this infection than we originally thought.”
Actually, there were early clues that eye problems might be a COVID-19 symptom. Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist, likely caught the virus from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient. Before the doctor died in 2020, he tried to warn the world about the illness’s severity.
Other early signs of eye problems connected to COVID were reported in Singapore, where researchers detected SARS in patients’ tears back in 2003. As well as in Toronto, where infection rates were higher among healthcare workers who did not wear eye protection.
In Italy, researchers found COVID on the surface of the eyes of more than one-half of 91 patients who’d been hospitalized in the spring of 2020.
Bhupendra Patel is with the University of Utah’s John A. Moran Eye Center. He co-authored a 2021 review of research on COVID’s ocular symptoms. He believes up to one-third of COVID patients have some type of eye issue, even if it’s not visible.
Are Eyes a Portal for Infection?
In addition to eye issues being a symptom of COVID, eyes may actually be a portal that leads to infection.
If the virus is on one’s hands, eye-rubbing could result in infection. Or respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze could land in another person’s eyes.
From there, the infection could make its way into nasal passages and then into the respiratory system.
Shahzad Mian, an ophthalmologist at the University of Michigan, says about 6% of people show signs of COVID in their eyes before other symptoms kick in. In other words, red or itchy eyes could mean COVID infection, even without other symptoms.
Allergies or COVID?
Now, people who have red or itchy eyes should not jump to the conclusion that they have COVID-19. Especially during fall allergy season.
Typical allergy symptoms including watery eyes and stuffy nose are much more likely to be an indicator of allergies than of COVID.
But research shows it wouldn’t hurt to get tested for the virus if symptoms persist and don’t respond to allergy medication.
And if you have additional symptoms beyond normal allergy symptoms, it’s definitely a good idea to get tested.
Staying healthy during challenging times should be our top priority. Please take care of yourselves to the best of your abilities.