On the heels of reports that positive COVID-19 tests among children increased by 21% in the past two weeks, a new study finds that pink eye may be a symptom of the coronavirus in kids. But don’t hit the panic button if your child has red, itchy eyes, say, ophthalmologists, physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care.
Children get pink eye frequently. Eye symptoms alone are probably not a sign of the virus. But if your child has been exposed to the virus or if they have other symptoms, such as a fever or cough, consider having them tested.
The study, published in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology, suggests that children may experience eye-related symptoms of COVID-19 more often than adults.
Researchers in Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected last year, examined 216 children between the ages of 2 and 11 years old. All children had tested positive for COVID-19, and while many symptomatic patients had common coronavirus symptoms such as fevers and coughs, 22.7% of the children studied showed "various ocular manifestations." Previous studies show pink eye or conjunctivitis does occur in adult patients with coronavirus, but at a much lower rate of 1% to 3%.
“Although the numbers do seem to be higher among children, keep in mind that this study did not do a swab of the eye,” says Sonal Tuli, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Some assumptions are being made here — that all the COVID-19 patients who showed signs of ocular symptoms were experiencing pink eye because of coronavirus. Lots of things can cause conjunctivitis, such as colds, different viruses and bacteria. Without a swab, we can’t confirm that the reported eye symptoms were really caused by the coronavirus.”