How Long Does Covid Pink Eye Last?

Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Man with pink eye covering one eye with hand
Viral conjunctivitis (pink eye) usually lasts about one to two weeks, however, if it occurs in conjunction with COVID-19, other symptoms may persist longer, depending on the severity of the infection.
  • COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a novel (new) coronavirus responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the whites of the eyes (called the sclera). 
  • The virus that causes COVID-19 can cause pink eye in 1% to 3% of adults. The incidence may be higher in children. 
  • Eye symptoms alone are probably not a sign of COVID-19, but if there is a known exposure to the virus or other symptoms of COVID-19 are present, such as a fever or cough, see a doctor to be tested for COVID-19.
  • Viral conjunctivitis usually lasts about one to two weeks, however, if you have COVID-19, other symptoms may persist longer, depending on the severity of the infection.

What Are Symptoms of Covid Pink Eye?

Symptoms of pink eye (conjunctivitis) caused by COVID-19 are the same as those from other viral causes, and may include: 

  • Eye redness
  • Eye irritation and discharge
    • May be watery or thick
    • May be yellow, white, or green, and usually continues to drain throughout the day
    • Affected eye often is crusty and stuck shut in the morning
    • Irritation and discharge worsen for three to five days before improving, and symptoms can persist for two to three weeks
  • Burning, sandy, or gritty feeling in one eye
  • Cold symptoms 

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include:

What Causes Covid Pink Eye?

COVID-19 pink eye is caused by a novel strain of coronavirus that is transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets that are propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs

Less commonly, COVID-19 may be transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Other causes of pink eye include: 

  • Viral infections 
  • Bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Toxic 
  • Nonspecific conditions
    • Dry eye
    • Irrigation after a chemical splash
    • Foreign body irritation (e.g., dust, eyelash)

How Is Covid Pink Eye Diagnosed?

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is diagnosed with a medical history (including any recent known exposure to COVID-19) and physical exam, looking for symptoms of COVID-19. 

If COVID-19 is suspected, tests include: 

  • PCR tests (genetic or molecular test) 
  • Antigen test

Pink eye is diagnosed with a physical examination of the eye. The diagnosis of pink eye is often made based on the presence of symptoms such as eye redness and discharge, and the patient’s vision is normal with no evidence of other eye conditions such as keratitis, iritis, or angle-closure glaucoma.

Swabbing the eye for culture, stains, and direct antibody or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is usually only used in uncommon or chronic cases that do not get better on their own or respond to treatment.

What Is the Treatment for Covid Pink Eye?

Treatment for pink eye (conjunctivitis) caused by COVID-19 includes: 

  • Topical antihistamine/decongestant eye drop to relieve eye irritation 
    • Drops are available without a prescription in most pharmacies
    • Patients should be careful to avoid spreading the viral infection from one eye to the other
    • Drops should be applied to the affected eye only and hands should be washed thoroughly after application
  • Warm or cool compresses may be used as needed

There is no current cure for COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms in mild to moderate cases. 

Patients with mild to moderate illness are usually advised to remain home and self-isolate for up to 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. Treatments for mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers 
  • Cough suppressants
  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids 

For more severe COVID-19 cases, patients may require hospitalization. Treatments may include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies 
  • Antiviral therapy with remdesivir 
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Antithrombotic therapy: anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy 
  • High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen 
  • Ventilation 
Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Image Source: iStock Images