Study: Sore eyes a common symptom in COVID-19 patients

Ocular symptoms in COVID-19 patients may be more common than previously thought — with sore eyes a significant sign of disease.

In a study published by BMJ Open Ophthalmology, investigators sought to determine three objectives: whether ocular symptoms were different in chronic sufferers of anterior eye diseases; when the symptoms were experienced; and how long the symptoms lasted when compared to other COVID-19 patients.

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Results of an online questionnaire of self-reported data from 83 participants over the course of two months with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 sought to ascertain the type, frequency and duration of different disease symptoms.

Additionally, investigators compared anterior eye symptoms experienced by respondents before their diagnosis and during the COVID-19 state.

Results found the most reported symptoms to be dry eye (66%), fever (76%), fatigue (90%), and lose off smell/taste (70%).1

Further results found that participants reported a number of ocular symptoms indicative of viral conjunctivitis.

The most three common ocular symptoms included photophobia (18%), sores eyes (16%), and itchy eyes (17%). Of those, the presence of sore eyes was significantly higher in patients during their COVID-19 state (16%) versus their pre-COVID-19 state (5%).1

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Data on these results of ocular symptoms before and during COVID-19 confirmed cases using the McNemar’s test for paired comparisons can be seen in Table 1.1

Participants also reported dry eye symptoms more frequently before (23%) rather than during their COVID-19 state (14%) — a change investigators found surprising. However, this was found to be lacking any statistical significance.

Similarly, symptoms reported by participants with an association to various types of conjunctivitis — including mucous discharge and gritty eyes linked to bacterial infection — did not have significant results.

Investigators found that 81% of participants reported experiencing ocular symptoms within two weeks of other COVID-19 symptoms, and 80% reported the symptoms lasting less than two weeks.

Despite conjunctivitis being linked as a potential indicator of COVID-19, the study’s investigators concluded that “conjunctivitis” — a broad term — should be used with caution when in association of the disease.

Read more COVID-19 coverage here


1. Pardhan S, Vaughan M, Zhang J, et al. 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. doi: 10.1136/bmjophth-2020-000632

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