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.

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.” 

Learn more from the American Academy of Ophthalmology