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If You Notice This in Your Eye, You Could Have COVID, Experts Warn

Your eyes may be the window to your COVID-19 status.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
A woman's pink eye with infection.

By now, you know to be alert for the most common signs of COVID-19: Cough, fever, fatigue. You even know that in many people, the novel coronavirus produces no symptoms at all. But a new study suggests there's another telltale sign of COVID, one that's more obscure: eye issues. In a new study published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology, 18% of people with COVID-19 reported photophobia—meaning a sensitivity to light—while 6% had sore eyes, and 17% had itchy eyes. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

Sore eyes can be a symptom of COVID-19

Conjunctivitis—commonly known as pinkeye—has previously been reported as a symptom of COVID-19. But there are subtleties to the condition specific to COVID, said study co-author Shahina Pardhan, Ph.D."The term 'conjunctivitis' has been used frequently, but conjunctivitis is a broad term, and it can represent many symptoms in the eye, some of which are not shown at all with COVID-19 infection," she said. "Our research specifies which eye symptoms were experienced during COVID-19 infection." 

For example: "Sore eyes are when the eyes feel uncomfortable or sore," she said. "The eye symptoms linked to COVID-19 are not mucus discharge or dry eyes or lumps and bumps on the eyelid. Our research showed that light sensitivity and watery eyes were also important."

Light sensitivity hasn't been widely reported as a COVID symptom. But last August, Dr. Margot Gage, a Texas epidemiologist, spoke with NPR about how her own six-month battle with COVID-19 involved several symptoms that weren't commonly known. One of them was sun sensitivity. "Going out into the sun for me is really debilitating," she said. "It's like I'm allergic to the sun, almost."

RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors

To wear or not to wear goggles?

The BMJ researchers' findings could be important not just for COVID-19 diagnosis but prevention. "We know that around 16% of people have ocular symptoms, and our research suggests that these are felt by people at around the same time as other COVID-19 symptoms, and they last for just as long," said Pardhan. "It is therefore important that, in addition to a mask, eyes should be protected as well to reduce the risk of the virus entering the eye."

Eye shields aren't universally recommended as a COVID preventative. But in July, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease researcher, said wearing them could be beneficial. "If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," said Fauci during an interview with ABC News. The coronavirus, like other viruses, invades our bodies through mucous membranes. "You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye," he said. "Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces. If you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can."

RELATED: If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says Dr. Fauci

How to survive this pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.