COVID-19 and Ophthalmology

Thursday, Apr 2, 2020 by Nisha Gupta, MD

This month we will discuss some basics regarding the COVID-19 virus and its effects on the eyes. Please note that much of this information is still evolving as we learn more about this virus.

What is the COVID-19 virus and its primary symptoms?

Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a respiratory condition that was first discovered in Wuhan, China. It is easily transmitted from person to person and has a significant fatality rate. People at higher risk include the elderly, those with other medical conditions including respiratory illnesses and diabetes, and people who are immunocompromised.

Symptoms may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Diarrhea, headache, and fatigue have also been reported.

How is the virus transmitted?

It is believed that the virus spreads through droplet contact when a person coughs or sneezes. It also may be transmitted if a person touches a surface that has the virus and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes.1 There have also been reports of the virus found in stool samples of several patients.2

There are increasing studies looking into the spread of the virus from patients who have no symptoms or patients who are carriers. Dr. Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who first brought light to the disease and later succumbed to it, thought he was infected by an asymptomatic patient.3 More research is being done to look into this method of transmission.

What does the virus do in the eyes?

There are two reports with references to COVID-19 in the eyes. These both cite cases of conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the conjuctiva. One study included 30 patients with one patient who had conjunctivitis.4 The virus was found in the tears of that patient. The second report included 1,099 patients from hospitals across China and nine patients had “conjunctival congestion.”5

It seems that conjunctivitis is relatively uncommon in patients with the virus. However, it may look similar to conjunctivitis caused by other viruses. Symptoms may include red eye, tearing, discomfort, and irritation.

What are the treatments?

Currently, there are no proven treatments or vaccines to prevent the virus. There are several studies and trials taking place right now for vaccines. Trials are also being done on drugs to treat the disease such as remdesivir and chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine.6

Ultimately, it is important to prevent the spread of the virus. Please avoid close contact with others who are sick or may be infected, minimize travel and exposure to yourself and others, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.

There is still a lot to learn about this virus. Please keep up to date with the information posted on the following websites and other medical sources:

We understand this is a difficult time for everyone, so we hope you all stay safe and healthy during this time. Under recommendations from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, doctors are to see emergency patients only. Many may be routed to an Emergency Room that is better equipped to care for patients with COVID-19 or symptoms. Please feel free to call or email our office if you have any questions or concerns.

Return next month for a discussion on a new topic!

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). How coronavirus spreads. Retrieved from [return]
  2. Holshue, ML et al. (2020). First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States. N Engl J Med, 382, 929-936. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2001191. [return]
  3. Hegarty, S. (2020). The Chinese doctor who tried to warn others about coronavirus. BBC News, World/Asia China. Retrieved from [return]
  4. Xia, J et al. (2020). Evaluation of Coronavirus in Tears and Conjunctival Secretions of Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infection. J Med Virol, 1-6. DOI: 10.1002/jmv.25725. [return]
  5. Guan, W et al. (2020). Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med, 1-13. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2002032. [return]
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Information for clinicians on therapeutic options for COVID-19 patients. Retrieved from [return]

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