(NEXSTAR) – Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve repeatedly been warned about the symptoms of the virus. Having a cough, sore throat, fever, or loss of taste or smell were among the most common.
But there is a new symptom being reported by those with the omicron variant: itchy eyes.
Some Twitter users have shared their experience with the irritating symptom. One says they experienced “watery itchy eyes” as well as other allergy-like symptoms while having COVID-19. Another says they suffered from “tons of sneezing and itchy nose and eyes.” A third user describes their symptoms as being “hay fever like,” including itchy eyes.
Are itchy eyes really a symptom of omicron?
In March 2020, the American Academy of Ophthalmology said about 1% to 3% of people with COVID-19 experienced conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. The World Health Organization lists it as a symptom that is “less common and may affect some patients.”
Because the omicron variant is relatively new, there isn’t much peer-reviewed research on its specific symptoms.
Tatevik Movsisyan, O.D., chief of Advanced Ocular Care Service at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells Prevention.com that the virus behind COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, appears to impact multiple systems of our bodies. Any COVID variant could cause inflammation, which could ultimately impact our eyes by making them red or irritated.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, causes the white in your eye to become pink or red, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Viruses, bacteria, and allergens are known to cause conjunctivitis, as can other irritants like chemicals, wearing contact lenses, and getting an eyelash in your eye.
Common symptoms of conjunctivitis, besides the eye turning pink or red, are itching, irritation, or burning of the eye; swelling; and discharge.
According to the CDC, you don’t always need to seek medical care for conjunctivitis. Instead, you can use over-the-counter methods to treat the symptoms. This could include using cold compresses and artificial tears to combat swelling and dry eyes. You should also avoid wearing contacts until symptoms are gone.
While conjunctivitis can be a symptom of COVID-19, the Mayo Clinic and a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology say light sensitivity, sore eyes, and itchy eyes are the most common eye problems linked to the virus.
If you are experiencing itchy eyes but don’t have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus – fever, cough, breathing issues, loss of taste or smell – the AAO says not to panic. Irritated eyes may instead be a sign of allergies.
Common symptoms of omicron
In December, the ZOE Covid Study found the top five symptoms of the omicron variant aren’t far off from those of having a cold. The British symptom study utilized data uploaded to an app by residents of London, according to Professor Tim Spector, the study’s lead scientist.
The top five symptoms reported in December were:
- Runny nose
- Fatigue (either mild or severe)
- Sore throat
While there haven’t yet been any major peer-reviewed studies of omicron symptom differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, doctors are reporting anecdotal evidence that show some differences. Vaccinated people are reporting headaches, body aches and fever when infected with omicron, she said. Unvaccinated patients are more frequently reporting cough, shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms.
The biggest difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated people isn’t with the types of symptoms – it’s with the severity of symptoms.
“There is little systematic data so far, but I expect that many vaccinated and especially boosted folks are experiencing very mild symptoms and there is a higher proportion of vaccinated folks who have no symptoms,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Nexstar’s Jeremy Tanner and Alix Martichoux contributed to this report.