Can you get an Eye Infection From a COVID Test?

You might have seen actress Hilary Duff posting on her social media that she believe she got an eye infection from the repeated COVID testing she has to undergo for her job. And, I think this particular claim deserves

special attention because I don’t want anyone delaying getting a COVID test because of this misinformation.

So, let’s break it down. First, how a COVID-19 test performed? A sterile swab is inserted into your nose and swabs the nasopharynx and nasal cavity floor for mucus. My children and I all had to have this test done back in the summer since they were exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual. Given our work as physicians, we wanted to be extra careful and sure we were not endangering our patients, so we all got tested and even closed our clinic for 7 days (wasn’t CDC recommended, but we wanted to be cautious). So I, and my young children, all know how uncomfortable that test it. It feels like it’s reaching up into your brain, but of course it isn’t.

So, are your eyes and nose connected? Yes, the are. Through the punctum. Those are the small openings in the inner corner of your eyelids. There is one at the top and bottom and they drain your tears into the nasolacrimal system. This is where I operate on blocked tear ducts in babies.

The probe for the COVID-19 test doesn’t penetrate into the lacrimal system. OK, but what about other areas? There are actually 2 barriers between the eyes and nose.

1. Lamina Papyracaea

This is a thin bone that forms the medial wall of the eye and separates the eye and orbit from the nasal cavity.

2. Periorbita

This is a fibrous sheath that encases the eye. Another layer of protection separating the nose and the eye.

But, can’t some infections travel from the nose to the eyes?

Yes. This happens when there is already a bacterial infection present, as in the case of sinusitis. Sometimes, this can lead to an infection of the tissues surrounding the eye and orbit called a preseptal cellulitis. This has to be treated with oral antibiotics.

So couldn’t have the probe been infected, causing an infection in the nose which then caused this type of infection?

It’s possible, though not likely at all. There are strict protocols in place for hand hygiene and sanitization before, during and after the samples are procured for the COVID testing. Second, if this has been the case, Hilary would have a really bad infection of her eye, like below, and would have required oral antibiotics, not just antibiotic drops (as she said she used in her instagram story).

Given that Hilary’s eye infection cleared with antibiotic drops, it’s likely she just happened to have a bacterial conjunctivitis unrelated to the COVID tests. Correlation does not equal causation.

So, if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 – fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and your physician has recommended a test, don’t delay it because you’re concerned about getting an eye infection. It’s not likely at all.

And if you prefer video – here’s a video I did on the subject.

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Dr. Rupa Wong


Hi! I'm Dr. Rupa Wong. Physician. Private Practice Owner. Mama to 3 kids. Managing Partner. Educator. Textbook Author. Conference Co-Founder. Mentor. I am more than just one thing, even as a doctor and I bet you are too. I would love to help you envision the life you want, and then get after it. What are you waiting for?

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