COVID-19 eye symptoms
Covid eye symptoms, like soreness, burning and itching, can occur alongside the more common viral symptoms of high temperature, shortness of breath and a cough.
Covid is a novel coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019. Its official name is SARS-CoV-2, but it's known by the World Health Organization (WHO) as COVID-19, an abbreviation of ‘coronavirus disease 2019’.
Covid causes eye symptoms typical of conjunctivitis, an eye condition often caused by infection. Although you may not know the exact cause of a bout of conjunctivitis, if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, it is likely linked to the virus.
How can Covid affect your eyes?
Since Covid first emerged, scientists have studied whether it affects the eyes:
- A meta-analysis published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology shows a 5% prevalence of ocular manifestations in patients with Covid.
- A study published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection suggests that up to 70% of COVID-19 patients also experience at least one eye symptom typical of conjunctivitis.
- A research paper in Nature lists ocular symptoms of Covid, including foreign body sensation, floaters, blurry vision and pain.
Eyesight during Covid
Conjunctivitis associated with Covid may cause blurred vision or watery eyes. Avoid driving if you have any changes to your vision, and see your optician if eye problems persist.
Vision after Covid
Some patients have reported longer-term vision changes after having Covid. The damage caused to the eye can lead to changes in the retina, photophobia (light sensitivity) and a general deterioration in eye health.
Compromised oxygen levels from severe COVID-19 could damage the eyes’ delicate tissues and cause eye disease.
Can you catch Covid through your eyes?
It is possible to catch Covid through your eyes, as the virus can enter the body through the conjunctival membrane that covers the front of the eye.
Covid usually spreads as people breathe in respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze of someone with the infection. These droplets can also enter the body through the eyes.
The COVID-19 infection takes hold by binding to an enzyme known as ACE2. Emerging research has found ACE2 on the ocular surface of the eyes, explaining how the virus enters the body this way (Source: Journal of Medical Virology).
Avoiding touching your eyes if your hands are not clean can minimise the risk of catching Covid through your eyes (Source: NHS).
Can Long Covid affect your eyesight?
One study observed that Long Covid could damage the tiny nerves of the cornea and cause a build-up of immune cells within the eye (Source: British Journal of Ophthalmology).
This damage can cause scarring on the cornea, creating blind spots in your vision and even blindness (Source: Survey of Ophthalmology).
How to protect your eyes from Covid
The UK government and NHS issued guidelines for reducing your risk of catching or spreading coronavirus during the pandemic. Advice includes getting the COVID-19 vaccine, keeping rooms well-ventilated, washing hands regularly and avoiding crowded places (Source: NHS).
The following can also help you to avoid catching coronavirus through your eyes:
Covid eye symptoms FAQs
Leading international healthcare bodies agree that COVID-19 can spread through infected respiratory droplets coming into contact with the eyes (Sources: CDC, World Health Organization, American Academy of Ophthalmology).
Common coronavirus symptoms include shortness of breath, sneezing, sore throat and loss of smell and taste. Less commonly, eye symptoms typical of conjunctivitis can also be associated with COVID-19 infection.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, get tested as soon as possible and seek medical advice if you’re worried. See your eye doctor or ophthalmologist if you develop eye symptoms.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.