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COVID-19 patients experience sore eyes, light sensitivity, itch


More information emerges on COVID-19’s ocular symptoms

In study participants with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the 3 most common ocular symptoms experienced were light sensitivity (18%), sore eyes (16%), and itchy eyes (17%), according to new research.1 Other symptoms associated with conjunctivitis, such as mucous discharge and gritty eyes linked to bacterial infection, did not reach significance.


An online questionnaire collected anonymous, self-reported data from 83 participants who had a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Information regarding type, frequency and duration of different COVID-19 symptoms was ascertained. Anterior eye symptoms experienced pre-COVID-19 were compared with symptoms during the COVID-19 state.

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Sore eyes, eye itch, and light sensitivity were significantly higher during an active COVID-19 infection compared with a pre-COVID-19 state.

Dry eye was reported by more people before reaching a positive COVID-19 diagnosis (23%), and the prevalence decreased during an active COVID-19 infection (14%), as did changes in the eyelids. These changes were surprising given the uptick in other ocular symptoms during infection, according to researchers. However, the changes did not reach statistical significance.

Table 1 compares ocular symptoms before and during COVID-19 using McNemar’s test for paired comparisons.1

Table 1

Results showed no differences in ocular symptoms between males and females, and there was no significant effect of different age groups on ocular symptoms (p<0.05).1 A majority of participants (81%) reported experiencing ocular symptoms within 2 weeks of other COVID-19 symptoms, and 80% reported symptoms lasted for less than 2 weeks.

In related news, The World Health Organization (WHO) named conjunctivitis a less common symptom of COVID-19 in November 2020.2 While it is important that ocular symptoms are included in the list of possible COVID-19 symptoms, researchers from this study argue that sore eyes should replace conjunctivitis “as it is important to differentiate from symptoms of other types of infections, such as bacterial infections, which manifest as mucous discharge or gritty eyes.”1


1. Pardhan S, Vaughan M, Zhang J, Smith L, Chichger H. Sore eyes as the most significant ocular symptom experienced by people with COVID-19: a comparison between pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19 states. BMJ Open Ophthalmology. 2020;5:e000632. 10.1136/bmjophth-2020-000632.

2. World Health Organization. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses. Accessed 1/19/21.

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