Your Eyes and COVID-19
Early in 2020, eye experts believed wearing corrective lenses, including glasses and contacts, may put you at more risk for COVID-19 because of increased touches to the face. Later in the year, an observational study in China found that wearing glasses, though not as effective as wearing a mask and social distancing, reduced the risk of COVID-19.
The information available on whether wearing glasses protects you from COVID-19 is somewhat confusing and even conflicting at times. Still, the overall view as the end of 2020 is that eye protection can be beneficial.
“There is an accumulation of evidence that says eye protection could have a protective effect. The effect is not as great as wearing a mask, but it is still helpful.” (Marlene Durand, director of infectious diseases at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, and professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School)
What’s known for sure, according to experts at Johns Hopkins, is that our eyes are vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Eyes are indeed vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2. That means you can get COVID-19 through your eyes… because our eyes are connected to our noses and our throats through our tear ducts. The transmission can be even be made more direct by rubbing the eye and touching the nose.” (Elia Duh, professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University)
So, yes, Eye Protection May Reduce COVID-19 Infection. But, don’t use it as a single or only line of defense. Also, they aren’t sufficient protection for frontline workers like nurses and doctors.
Wearing Glasses as Part of COVID-19 Protection
Glasses provide a low-level of protection from COVID-19. For healthcare workers, glasses aren’t enough protection, though. They need to take extra precautions.
“Eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield, when used with a mask or respirator that covers the nose and mouth protects health care personnel’s eyes and mucous membranes from the virus, which can be transmitted by virus-containing respiratory droplets, possibly by airborne viral particles in smaller droplet nuclei, or by touching one’s face or eyes with virus-contaminated hands.” (Does Wearing Eye Protection Mitigate Risk in Public, Non-Health Care Settings?)
Beyond healthcare settings, individuals around those infected with COVID-19 may want to consider added eye protection. This can mean goggles or a face shield in addition to wearing a mask, social distancing, and regular hand washing.
The Bottom Line
Unless you work in healthcare or care for someone with COVID-19, there’s no need to add goggles to your prevention plan. Instead, Duh sees eye protection as “the third line of defense, not the first.”
“The bottom line is that the best protective measures against COVID-19 are social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing. Stick with those and you should be well protected, and whether you wear glasses, contacts or neither shouldn’t make much of a difference to your health.” (Does Wearing Glasses Protect You From COVID-19?)
If you contract COVID-19 through your eyes, it’s probably from touching your hands to your face. So, adhering to the three best measures – face masks, social distancing, and handwashing – provides adequate protection for most people.
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