Dr Ira Chopra
Conjunctivitis, a common eye infection in monsoon, causes inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane, known as conjunctiva, which lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eyeball. The small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become more visible when these are inflamed and cause the whites of eyes to appear reddish or pink. As a result, conjunctivitis is also known as ‘pink eye’. In the wake of the pandemic, some studies have indicated that conjunctivitis can well be a symptom of coronavirus as the virus may enter the human host through eyes as well. Conjunctivitis or pink eye has been found as an atypical symptom.
In humans, acute conjunctivitis is the only ophthalmic manifestation found in studies in the past few months. The eyes are an important point of entry for respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses. The initial cases in China were detected by an ophthalmologist treating eye infections.
Conjunctivitis is common in monsoon and an asymptomatic patient or a patient in incubation can transmit the disease through tears or discharge. Lack of wearing eye protection can infect the person — such absence was associated with an increased risk of SARS coronavirus transmission from infected patients to healthcare workers during outbreak of the disease in 2003 in Toronto.
Studies published show that conjunctivitis can be the only sign and symptom of active Covid-19 infection without the other general symptoms of fever, dry cough or respiratory symptoms.
In India, however, such cases are still rare. Since March, at least 10 patients in Hyderabad, who were treated for severe coronavirus also had an eye infection. Doctors agree that conjunctival infection is not an absolute symptom of Covid-19 but it has manifested in some patients with high viral load.
Maintain eye hygiene
When a patient of coronavirus, even if he or she is asymptomatic, speaks or coughs or sneezes, droplets can emanate and spread diseases. Maintaining eye hygiene and social distancing are the only way to prevent a Covid-19 infection through eyes or ocular discharge. Those who wear contact lenses should use glasses during the pandemic and maintain eye hygiene — wash your hand with soap and water and then wash your eyes with plain water, repeat this frequently. Use medicated eye drops prescribed to you. It is also important to avoid straining eyes — avoid looking at laptop or any screen continuously and try to take 10 minutes break every hour, this will reduce tendency to rub eyes. Take a walk around and look at trees. Take care of diet — include spinach, apricots, sweet potatoes, fish, as well as Vitamin C, calcium and zinc. Doctors treating patients with eye conditions must use face shield and PPE to prevent chances of infection.
Here are some generic protective measures recommended by WHO:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or more. Wash your hands specially before eating, after using the restroom, sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. If you can’t get to a sink, use a hand sanitiser with at least 60 per cent alcohol.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your face with your elbow or a tissue. If using a tissue, throw it away promptly. Then go wash your hands.
- Regularly disinfect commonly touched surfaces and items in your house such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and countertops.
- Seek medical help if you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or red eye.
— The writer is consultant-ophthalmologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurugram
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