We ophthalmologists are used to the red/pink eye, called Madras Eye, which is a viral conjunctivitis caused by Adenovirus.
This conjunctivitis used to be seasonal until a few years back, but now it is seen right through the year. The symptoms of viral conjunctivitis are red eye, sore throat, fever.
The infection spreads from droplet source (aerosol spread), wherein it can spread from one person to another, in close proximity/contact with the surface that is infected.
The virus is actually very contagious and spreads very easily in closed spaces and air-conditioned rooms. The Adenoviral infection is self-limiting and is generally not vision threatening or life threatening.
COVID-19 also spreads from droplet source (aerosol spread), and has respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness which is not in the case of adenoviral infections.
COVID-19 presents as fever, dry cough, breathlessness and can be fatal. (For comparison, see box)
Those affected experience symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or conjunctivitis, which can appear between two to 14 days, after being exposed to the virus. In addition to this, according to a paper published in The Lancet , patients can transmit the virus even before experiencing symptoms.
How is the new coronavirus related to your eyes?
Patients who have contracted the new coronavirus may have ocular symptoms. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane covering the eyeball. It is often referred to as ‘pink eye’. Conjunctivitis often presents as an infected/red, “wet and weepy” eye. Viral conjunctivitis is known to present with upper respiratory infections (colds, flu, etc.) and may be a symptom of the COVID-19.
A recent study of hospitals across China, published in the New England Journal of Medicine , found “conjunctival congestion” or red, infected eyes in nine of 1,099 patients (0.8%) with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
A study in The Journal of Medical Virology showed that of 30 patients hospitalised for COVID-19, only one was diagnosed with conjunctivitis. Based on this information, the occurrence of conjunctivitis is low.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has released new recommendations regarding urgent and non-urgent patient care on March 18. Patients typically present with respiratory illness, including fever, cough and shortness of breath; conjunctivitis has also been reported.
The only way is to follow regular hygiene practices — frequent handwashing, sneezing or coughing onto a sleeve as recommended by the WHO, and social distancing. Approach a doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.