There may be little risk of coronavirus spreading through our tears

26 Mar 2020

Image: © tugolukof/

Researchers looking at how the coronavirus spreads have suggested that tears are an unlikely medium for contracting Covid-19.

While researchers are certain that coronavirus spreads through mucus and droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing, it is unclear if the virus can be spread through other bodily fluids, such as tears.

Now, new research published to the journal Ophthalmology has suggested it is unlikely that those with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are passing it on through tears.

Future Human

However, an important caveat to the study was that none of the patients involved had conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye. It’s estimated that pink eye develops in between just 1pc and 3pc of people with the coronavirus.

The study’s authors said their findings suggest that, coupled with a low incidence of pink eye, the risk of virus transmission through our tears is low.

As part of the study, researcher Dr Ivan Seah and others form the National University Hospital of Singapore collected tear samples from 17 patients with Covid-19.

A better understanding of the virus

The samples were collected from the first time the patients showed symptoms of the disease until they recovered about 20 days later. Neither viral culture or a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction detected the virus in their tears during this time.

The researchers also collected samples from the back of the nose and throat during this same timeframe. Unlike the tears, samples from these parts of the body were teeming with coronavirus, they said.

Seah said he hopes this work will help guide more research into preventing transmission of the virus through more likely routes, such as droplets and faecal-oral spread.

However, the researchers stressed the importance of eye hygiene, as an infected person’s cough or sneeze close to another person’s face can cause the virus enter through the eyes. Also, the virus can spread to a person if they touch their eyes soon after touching an infected surface, such as a table or doorknob.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic