Are red eyes from coronavirus or allergies?
If you have itchy, red, watery eyes, it's likely you are suffering from seasonal allergies (or a cold) — and not COVID-19.
Why? Itchy or watery eyes are not common symptoms of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 respiratory illness.
Also, one difference between the coronavirus and allergies is a fever. A fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, while it’s not associated with seasonal allergies.
Allergy vs. coronavirus symptoms
Doctors and eye care professionals recommend that you keep track of what worsens your symptoms if you’re not feeling well.
If you seem to be fine when you're spending time indoors, but you start sneezing and coughing anytime you go outside, you have allergies.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reminds us that typical symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough (usually dry), shortness of breath and tiredness.
Less common coronavirus symptoms include:
Stuffy or runny nose
Aches and pains
Diarrhea or nausea
While most of the symptoms of COVID-19 and allergies don’t overlap, allergies also aren’t a risk factor for coronavirus infection, according to the European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.
Coronavirus, allergies and conjunctivitis
According to a press release issued by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, develops in only 1% to 3% of COVID-19 cases. But several things, including allergies, can cause pink eye.
If a virus like the one that can lead to COVID-19 causes pink eye, the condition usually starts in one eye and might move to the other eye within a few days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. Also, discharge from the eye normally is watery, not thick.
Allergies can also cause conjunctivitis, according to the CDC, but the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis differ somewhat from the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis normally occurs in both eyes, and can trigger itching, tearing and swelling in the eyes.
Conjunctivitis is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam that can include:
Review of your symptoms
Measurements to determine whether your vision has been harmed
Evaluation of your conjunctiva and external eye tissue
Evaluation of the inner part of your eyes
SEE RELATED: Coronavirus: How eyes may play a role in its spread
Red eyes in Seattle nursing home COVID-19 patients
It's possible that red eyes unrelated to conjunctivitis might also be a symptom of COVID-19.
A nurse at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, told CNN she and other colleagues noticed that what seemed to be “red eye shadow” on the outside of the eyes was prevalent among patients with COVID-19. Complications from the disease killed more than two dozen people associated with the nursing home.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology mentioned the CNN report in a March 2020 alert to its members; however, a definitive tie between this eye redness and COVID-19 hasn’t been proven.
Red eyes alone are not enough to diagnose coronavirus and are more likely caused by infections or allergies. Also, it’s possible for someone to have COVID-19 and be infected by a different virus that causes red eyes.
ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM ALLERGIES OR SOMETHING ELSE? Call your local eye doctor, who is an expert at eye conditions. Schedule a virtual visit or an in-office appointment. Eye care practices have added safety measures to reduce your COVID-19 risk.
Page published in May 2021
Page updated in May 2021