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Officials: Watch eye infections as coronavirus cases continue

By Staff | Apr 9, 2020

Although conjunctivitis has appeared in a low number of people with COVID-19, medical professionals are advising individuals to take the same precautions — wash hands and social distance if experiencing pink eye symptoms.

Medical reports, approximately one-third of individuals with novel coronavirus, are suggesting that COVID-19 can spread through eyes, causing an infection, when an individual comes into contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

“If you see someone with red, or swollen eyes, do not panic,” Quigley Eye Specialist Board Certified Ophthalmologist Dr. Nika Priest-Allen said in a prepared statement. “It does not mean the individual is infected with COVID-19, but certainly follow CDC guidelines and distance yourself socially.”

Priest-Allen said they have a network of doctors that are communicating and having discussions in the harder-hit areas of COVID-19, which is providing data for them in regards to pink eye and the virus.

“It’s not popping up, going on across ophthalmology, which is good, but it’s one of the things that goes with the syndrome. You can get this (pink eye) with a lot of the regular common cold (symptoms). This is not the first thing you should be worried about,” she said.

But if individuals show signs of pink eyes, along with shortness of breath, fever or cough, they should contact a local hospital, and not an eye doctor.

Priest-Allen said, generally speaking, many viruses, those of upper respiratory, frequently happen with a viral infection, conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye.

“Most of the people that have conjunctivitis were already diagnosed with other symptoms,” she said, adding that pink eye should not be considered the first sign of COVID-19. “It’s definitely uncommon, there are other symptoms, upper respiratory symptoms. It’s unlikely that this (conjunctivitis) will be the only thing that someone has.”

Priest-Allen said the most common reason for conjunctivitis for adults are viral — cold symptoms and runny nose.

“If you get a cold, or you have the sniffles, the same thing that causes the lining of the nose and airways to become inflamed to irritated, can do the same on the clear membrane on the white part of your eye. The same kind of stuff that causes the nose to run is the same reaction in they eye,” she said. “The white part of the eye is covered in a clear layer, which becomes swollen, or red. It’s often related to allergies as well.”

Priest-Allen went on to say that it is known as pink eye because the blood vessels embedded in the clear layer of the eye becomes swollen.

With pink eye being extremely contagious, individuals should avoid others, she said.

The good news is that pink eye is easily cured with preservative free artificial tears, as well as a cool compress to keep comfortable. It is important not to share towels and pillows with family, avoid touching eyes, and wash hands often. Priest-Allen said sharing towels is the most common way of spreading pink eye in a household.

“It’s super contagious, but very harmless. Pink eye symptoms in general, for the most part, those symptoms are not going to hurt you. It runs its course,” she said adding, that pink eye can be a sign of something else. It can be a sign of having coronavirus virus, but it’s only about a third, or less, having it as part of the syndrome. It’s not a positive first sign of it.”

The symptoms of red eye consists of redder looking eyes and eyes becoming watery.

Priest-Allen said instead of bringing an individual into the office for pink eye, they can do it through telemedicine, due to the ability to look at the eye through video conferencing and talking about symptoms.

“I see quite a few older population (patients) in the area and I don’t want to expose if we can help from afar,” she said. “It’s important to keep the spread down. We are here to help, but in general viral conjunctivitis goes away on its own with artificial tears.”

With that said, if symptoms get worse over a few days to a week an appointment should be made, especially if there is any pain or vision change associated with pink eye.