Your Eyes and COVID-19: Tips for Contact Lens Users and Everyone Else

People are being reminded constantly to avoid touching their face because COVID-19 can enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. But what about those who wear contact lenses and regularly insert, adjust and remove lenses?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has urged contact lens wearers to don their glasses more often — or for the foreseeable future — during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Eye specialists say wearing glasses could help protect your eyes from the virus — as will the standard practice of washing your hands thoroughly and regularly.

“Common sense precautions can significantly reduce your risk of getting infected,” says ophthalmologist Sonal Tuli, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “So wash your hands a lot, follow good contact lens hygiene (if you’re still wearing them) and avoid touching or rubbing your nose, mouth and especially your eyes.”

Contact lens users put in and remove their lens twice or more a day, requiring the kind of hand hygiene that is now being urged by infectious disease experts during the coronavirus pandemic. But any slip up in the hand-washing routine among contact lens wearers can lead to infection at a possibly higher rate than non-lens users.

Reports from China and other parts of the world are indicating that about 1 percent to 3 percent of people with COVID-19 also had conjunctivitis, more commonly known as “pink eye.” Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. The condition is rarely serious but can be highly contagious

Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Ophthalmology to protect you and others from spreading COVID-19:

  1. If you wear contact lenses, switch to glasses for a while.
    Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the average person. “Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in. Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye,” Dr. Tuli advises. If you continue wearing contact lenses, follow these hygiene tips to limit your chances of infection.
  2. Wearing glasses may add a layer of protection.
    Corrective lenses or sunglasses can shield your eyes from infected respiratory droplets. But they don’t provide 100 percent security. The virus can still reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses. If you’re caring for a sick patient or potentially exposed person, safety goggles may offer a stronger defense.
  3. Stock up on eye medicine prescriptions if you can.
    Experts advise patients to stock up on critical medications, so that you’ll have enough to get by if you are quarantined or if supplies become limited during an outbreak.
  4. Avoid rubbing your eyes.
    It can be hard to break this natural habit, but breaking the habit can lower your risk of infection. If you feel an urge to itch or rub your eye or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers. Dry eyes can lead to more rubbing, so consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine. If you must touch your eyes for any reason — even to administer eye medicine — wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Then wash them again afterward.

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