With the prevalence of a new coronavirus taking over our news feeds, it can often bring up questions about some of the less common side effects that could be experienced with the flu or coronavirus. Though the current virus might leave us with more questions than answers right now, coronaviruses have actually been around for ages.

We know that flu and coronaviruses can have effects on the body that extend beyond the typical cough or stuffy nose, but can they affect your eyes?

The mode of COVID-19 transmission is still believed to be primarily through respiratory droplets from person-to-person. However, the virus can also live on surfaces up to a few days; therefore, touching an infected surface, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands may lead to infection, but this risk is generally considered to be low.

Can cleaning the eyes with water or over the counter eyedrops decrease the chance of infection?

The ocular surface has its own protective mechanisms, including antimicrobial proteins and natural lubrication. Therefore, routine cleaning or flushing of the eyes with water is not necessary and may actually strip away some of the ocular surface’s natural protective barriers, leading to increased risk of infection.

If your eyes become irritated or red, using over-the-counter artificial tears may help alleviate your symptoms. If symptoms are persistent, you should contact your eye care provider.

Is it true that contact wearers have a higher risk of infection for COVID-19?

With proper hygiene, there is no evidence that wearing contact lenses increases your risk of infection for COVID-19. However, contact lens wearers touch their eyes more often than the average person. If you tend to touch or rub your eyes, it may be best to switch to glasses temporarily, given risk of transmission from rubbing without proper hand hygiene. Also, glasses minimize risk of irritation from contact lens wear and serve as a barrier that forces you to pause before touching your eyes.

Although not that best protection, glasses can also serve as a partial shield from respiratory droplets. If you do continue contact lens wear, make sure you carefully adhere to contact lens hygiene and wash your hands. If you develop redness or irritation, please discontinue contact lens wear, and contact your eye doctor.

How a Cold or Flu Can Affect Your Eyes

Viruses can easily travel from your nose and throat to your eyes. Every time you cough or blow your nose you are shedding germs into the air that can end up getting into your eyes, either when you happen to spread it with your touch, or when droplets get into your eye. Though you aren’t likely to lose your eyesight from the simple flu or coronavirus, you might experience some added discomfort.

Pink Eye

Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye can leave one or both eyes feeling dry, gritty, and itchy while they might look very red and crusty. Pink eye can be caused by a variety of different things but most common is a viral infection. Since coronaviruses are usually spread through contact with fluid droplets on hands, it is easy to infect the thin membranes of your eyes if you haven’t washed your hands frequently enough.

Burning and Itching

Burning and itching is a common side effect of the pink eye, but that might not be the only reason you’re experiencing these feelings. When your body is fighting off a cold, flu or virus it is vulnerable all around. This can lead to your body working overtime to fight off the illness and forgetting to produce enough fluid for your eyes.

Itchy eyes are often begging to be rubbed, but this can actually make the problem worse. Not only can you increase the irritation in your eyes, if there is an infection this can transfer the infection to your other eye.

To treat burning or itchy eyes you can use non-medicated eye drops or a cool, damp compress to help relieve the irritation.

Light Sensitivity

When your head is congested and you are feeling the effects of a cold or virus you might be experiencing headaches. While not directly related to your eyesight itself, headaches can lead to light sensitivity. The best solution to this is to just avoid bright lights until your headache passes. Reducing your time on digital devices can also help, as can a hot bath or shower or a warm compress over your eyes.

Dry or Watery Eyes

A cold or flu can affect your body’s ability to produce tears, leading to either too watery or too dry of eyes. Though the only cure to watery eyes is to wait it out, non-medicated eye drops can help you moisten them if they are too dry.

Inability to wear contacts

When your eyes are acting up and feeling too dry, moist, or infected, you might be forced to avoid wearing contact lenses until your symptoms pass. If you do wear contacts and get diagnosed with a virus, you’ll want to discard the set you’ve been wearing and start with a new set when your symptoms have subsided.

Wash Your Hands

The easiest and best way to prevent the spread of any flus or viruses and to protect your eye from experiencing the fallout is to wash your hands regularly. Using soap and warm water to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds every time you blow your nose, touch a public surface and open a door can help ensure that you aren’t passing a virus to yourself.

See Your Eye Doctor

Since your eyes are a very sensitive area, it is easy for them to be affected by the flu or virus. Transmission of a coronavirus is especially easy since the membranes protecting the eye are so thin and coronaviruses are passed via droplets.

Visiting your eye doctor regularly is the best way to stay on top of your eye health. If you are experiencing any discomfort give us a call so we can help you figure it out and get your eyes back into tip-top shape.


  1. CAN FLU OR CORONAVIRUSES AFFECT MY EYESIGHT? Author: Envision Eye Care | May 15, 2020 |
  2. Ask the Expert: How COVID-19 Affects the Eyes Originally published September 24, 2021

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At Golden Eye Optometry, we view good vision care as front line protection at every age. A routine eye exam can detect more than poor vision. It can shed early light on glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes.

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