How to prevent conjunctivitis and protect your eyes
When you have a virus, especially one that causes a hacking cough, runny nose, and other symptoms of a common cold or flu, it’s typical for your eyes to also get puffy and red. You may be suffering from viral conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye.
How do viruses get into your eyes?
It’s rather simple. When you’re sick, you can easily transfer viruses to your eyes by sneezing, coughing into your hands, or blowing your nose – and then touching the area around your eye.
The coronavirus - pink eye connection
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), doctors have discovered that COVID-19 can cause conjunctivitis. If you’re standing within six feet of an infected person, and they cough or sneeze, the virus can enter your eye. Alternatively, if someone sneezes and virus particles land on the shopping cart that you take and push around a store, and then you touch your eyes without washing your hands first – you’re giving the virus direct access.
However, despite the apparent ease with which coronavirus can infect eyes, the AAO reports that only about 1 – 3% of all patients with the virus contract pink eye.
Preventing pink eye
Like always, prevention is the most effective medicine! Eye care professionals recommend following these tips to help prevent getting viral conjunctivitis:
- Wash your hands correctly
The CDC instructs people to wash their hands in accordance with these steps: wet your hands, turn off the tap, apply soap, lather and scrub for 20 seconds, turn on tap and rinse. Air dry your hands, use a disposable paper towel and discard it immediately, or use a clean (not shared) towel.
- Keep your fingers away from your face
No rubbing or wiping your eyes! Even if you don’t feel any symptoms of coronavirus, it’s essential not to touch any part of your face. To wipe away tears or remove makeup, use a clean tissue.
- Don’t share your personal things
As generous as you may feel about letting others use your personal items, now’s the time to keep things to yourself. For example, the CDC recommends not sharing eye drops, makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses cases, pillowcases, or towels. Pink eye is highly contagious.
- Consider wearing glasses instead of contacts
While there’s currently no evidence to prove that wearing contacts raises your risks of contracting the novel coronavirus, there’s some evidence that shows you can get Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes. In general, contact lenses wearers touch their eyes more often than people who wear eyeglasses, so it may be smart to make a temporary switch from contact lenses to glasses. However, this is only a friendly recommendation and not a hard-and-fast rule. If you prefer to stick with wearing contacts, washing your hands thoroughly can help keep you and your eyes safe.
Treatment for conjunctivitis
Regardless of whether your pink eye is caused by coronavirus or a different virus, there is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis. Usually, it goes away on its own within one to two weeks.
To alleviate your painful symptoms, eye doctors recommend:
- Taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or any anti-inflammatory drug
- Applying a warm compress on your eye for a few minutes; take care to use a clean wash cloth each time and for each eye
- Use artificial tears (lubricating eye drops) to soothe your eye irritation; don’t touch the bottle tip to your eye
Are you sick and have pink eye symptoms?
Now is not the time to make a DIY diagnosis. Eye redness, even if you have a virus, doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have conjunctivitis. A wide range of other conditions can lead to the same symptoms. Contact an eye doctor near you for help to figure out what’s causing your eye pain. Don’t visit your eye care practice without calling for guidance first, because extra precautions must be taken with patients who may have COVID-19.
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