by Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers knew that the eye was a possible route of infection but were not exactly sure which parts of the eye were involved and to what extent. At first, some questioned whether or not human tears contained the virus but a recent study found that it is rare for the virus to be present in the tears of people who have COVID. The conjunctiva of the eye, however, may be a possible passageway through which the virus can enter the body but more studies need to be done to confirm this.
The conjunctiva is a clear layer of tissue that covers the whites of the eyes as well as the inner lining of the eyelids. The virus can potentially be introduced to the conjunctiva by a contaminated surface (like a hand or an object) or by airborne virus particles. Interestingly, once the pandemic began some people switched from wearing their contact lenses to exclusively wearing their prescription glasses thinking that their glasses would shield their eyes from airborne virus particles and also that contact lens use should be discontinued due to the virus (even if they themselves did not have it.) However, a recent article published June 2020 in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye states that this way of thinking is false and the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) and American Optometric Association (AOA) agree.
People should not be fooled into thinking that prescription eyeglasses provide adequate protection or that they need to avoid contact lens use altogether (as long as they are not sick and are following proper handwashing and contact lens care guidelines.) “There is currently no evidence to suggest an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 through contact lens (CL) wear compared to spectacle lens wear and no scientific evidence that wearing standard prescription spectacles provides protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions.” Only goggles, face shields, or protective eyewear should be used when trying to protect one’s eyes from airborne virus particles. Additionally, contact lens wear does not have to be stopped due to the pandemic. However, as always, but perhaps now more than ever, proper handwashing, handling, and sanitization of contact lenses is absolutely necessary to decrease the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus to the eye via contaminated hands or other objects.
Feel free to review (and print) these Contact Lens Wear & Coronavirus Do’s and Don’ts which have been put together by the AAO and AOA. Patients should speak to their doctor if they have any questions regarding eye protection during COVID-19 particularly if they are a frontline worker. Also, any patients who need more information about appropriate contact lens care or who are interested in changing to daily disposable contact lenses should consult with their doctor and schedule a possible contact lens refitting in the near future.
Eye care professionals will continue to adhere to the CDC’s recommendations in order to protect patients, staff, and themselves from COVID-19. During the pandemic, sometimes CDC or local guidelines change rapidly so it is best to stay current with the latest discoveries made as our understanding of the virus continues to evolve. This article was written June 2020.