Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
‘Tis the season for colds, congestion, and itchy red eyes. Any other year, we would chalk these symptoms up to a typical cold and flu season. But this winter everyone is wondering every time someone coughs if it is COVID-19.
While those symptoms are common, when we think of COVID-19 most probably aren’t thinking about how it can affect your eyes. Based on data gathered through September 2020, it appears one to three percent of people with COVID-19 will get conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye.
Pinkeye is caused when the virus infects a tissue called conjunctiva. This tissue covers the white part of your eye as well as the inside of the eyelids. Pinkeye is generally very noticeable as an eye will become red, swollen and very itchy. However, it’s important to note that just because you have conjunctivitis, that doesn’t mean you have COVID-19.
The more likely causes are the varied viruses, bacteria, chemicals, and allergens that can irritate your eyes. Conjunctivitis can be treated with over-the-counter options and should dissipate in about one to two weeks. A physician can determine the cause of the irritated eye and will prescribe a treatment if any is required. Antibiotics can often shorten the length of infection and reduce complications if the pink eye is caused by bacteria. Antiviral medication may be prescribed for severe cases of viral conjunctivitis.
While many people are familiar with the term conjunctivitis, keratitis is not commonly known. Keratitis is inflammation of the cornea which is the clear dome that covers the iris and the pupil. Keratoconjunctivitis is when you have both keratitis and conjunctivitis at the same time.
There are other impacts on the eyes during COVID-19. The use of digital applications has led to ocular complications for some. Eye strain is a common result of stress on the eyes often by intense focus such as driving long distances, constant staring at a computer screen or digital device.
The medical term for eye strain is asthenopia. Eye strain is a symptom, not a disease. Symptoms often include ocular fatigue, double vision, blurring and headaches. Although eye strain can be uncomfortable, it does not lead to eye damage.
A trend during COVID-19 for those with eye strain has been blue light glasses. Effectiveness of this is being challenged on both sides. Some feel there is no improvement on the eyes, while others feel it helps them tremendously.
Sunlight is the primary source of blue light although it is also found in fluorescent, LCD lights, computers and flat screen TVs. A certain amount of blue light promotes good health. It boosts alertness, helps memory and cognitive function, and elevates mood. It regulates circadian rhythm which is the body’s natural wake and sleep cycle. Exposure to blue light during daytime hours helps maintain a healthful circadian rhythm. Too much blue light exposure at night such as through smart phones, tablets, and computers can disturb the wake and sleep cycle, leading to problems sleeping and daytime tiredness.
Be safe. Stay masked!
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