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Mike Pence's Red Eye a Concern at VP Debate

Pink eye is a symptom of coronavirus.

Among the many health-related issues discussed during Wednesday's Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, Twitter was abuzz with observations about Mike Pence's left eye, which appeared red. Among a choice few: "What's wrong with Pence's eye? Anyone else seeing this?" "It has been reported, even though it's limited in the medical literature, that anywhere from 11 to 30 percent of COVID-positive patients can have pink eye—it can be an early sign," Dr. Jennifer Ashton told ABC News, "but he also could have just had some makeup in his eye." Given that conjunctivitis can be a symptom of COVID-19—and that the President was recently hospitalized with the virus—it raises the question: How does COVID-19 affect the eye? Read on, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus


Watch Out for Pink Eye

"One of the more difficult aspects of the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is keeping track of potential new symptoms and links to other conditions," reports the Cleveland Clinic, which has been recommending health measures for the Presidential debates. "Case in point: a new study that shows a potential overlap between coronavirus and eye conditions like conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye." "The number of COVID-19 patients that have been reported to have eye symptoms is relatively low. And when you have a population that small, it's really hard to get a picture of the story because we just don't have as many data points," optometrist Alexandra Williamson, OD, told the Clinic.

The Rx: If you have conjunctivitis, call your medical professional to discuss.


Don't Rub or Touch Your Eyes

Close up black african man taking off glasses feels unhealthy suffering from eye strain after long working on computer

"The most common way for COVID to enter through the eyes is by touching your face or rubbing your eyes after your hands have come into contact with an infected surface," Dr. Kevin Lee, eye physician & surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates within the Pacific Vision Eye Institute in San Francisco, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. "People don't realize how often they touch their face, so please be cognizant."

The Rx: "Avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your face especially after contact with public surfaces."


You've Been Exposed to Aerosol Transmission

A man in medical face mask (respirator) and safety glasses outdoors

Since COVID has the ability to spread by aerosol transmission and respiratory droplets, Dr. Lee points out that just being in the vicinity of an infected person can actually result in transmission through the eyes. "For instance, if someone who has the coronavirus sneezes, the droplets can actually enter through the eyes," he explains. 

The Rx: How can you prevent this from happening? Dr. Diaz suggests wearing glasses, in order to create a physical barrier, "which may block droplets from reaching the eye," he explains. "In that sense, they function as 'safety glasses' which we use for various activities and occupations."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says You Can Catch COVID This Way After All


If You Wear Contact Lenses, Be Careful

woman putting contact lens in her right eye,

You might want to think about swapping out your contact lenses with glasses until the coronavirus pandemic is over, urges Dr. Lee. "Contact lens wearers have a higher risk of transmitting the virus through their eyes." This is especially true if contact lense-wearers do not practice good hygiene such as not properly cleaning their lenses, sleeping in contacts, not washing their hands, or extending the wear of their contacts past the recommended date.

The Rx: At the very least, practice good contact lens hygiene. Better yet, wear glasses.


Don't Share Eye Drops or Cosmetics

orange shirt applying mascara at home

Sharing products that make contact with the eyes—ranging from eye drops to mascara—can put you in direct contact with the virus. "Coronavirus can be found and transmitted through ocular secretions, like tears, so it has the ability to enter the eyes through products like cosmetics and eye drops," explains Dr. Lee. "It's possible for the tip of the eye dropper or mascara to be contaminated by coming in contact with the ocular secretions of someone who is COVID positive."

The Rx: He urges the importance of not sharing eye drops or cosmetics with family members or friends. Additionally, if you've used any products while experiencing COVID-like symptoms, "be sure to throw the products away as they've likely been contaminated." 

RELATED: I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor and Would Never Touch This


It May Be Allergies

Young sad woman sits alone front of the window

If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from allergies, Vicente Diaz, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine ophthalmologist, points out that it is a good idea to do everything you can to control them. "This can prevent rubbing the eyes, which can be tempting when a reaction to pollen causes them to itch," he explains. 


Don't Share Towels and Pillows

The hand reaches for the towel

Communal face towels and pillowcases can be coronavirus culprits. "COVID can also be transmitted by the use of shared face towels and pillow covers," Dr. Lee maintains. 

The Rx: "Avoid using bathroom hand towels on your face, and be sure to clean them regularly." Keep in mind this is also true for shared pillow covers—whether in the bedroom or in common spaces. 

RELATED: I'm a Doctor and Here's a Sure Sign You've Had COVID


So What Can You Do?

Woman Washing her hands with soap and water at home bathroom

"Lack of proper eye protection was associated with an increased risk of SARS transmission," says one study in All About Vision. "Therefore, the eyes are suspected as a route for spreading the SARS virus and, possibly, COVID-19." They recommend you:

  • "Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. If you don't have access to soap or water, clean your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Resist the urge to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay away from people who've been exposed to or contracted the coronavirus.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or use the inside of your elbow. Throw tissues in the trash immediately after using them."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah