Eye Protection: One of The Most Key Areas to Avoid COVID-19

May 12, 2020

Dr. Mark Ruchman, chief medical officer, Versant Health, shares eye safety tips and ways to best stay protected from COVID-19 as guidelines are loosened throughout the country.

While people are hearing about mouth, nose and hand protection to stay safe from COVID-19, many may be overlooking protection for a key body part-their eyes.

Dr. Mark Ruchman, chief medical officer, Versant Health, shares eye safety is just as important as staying protected in other areas of your body in the time of COVID-19. 

"The eyes are an important part of the body to protect because, like the nose and mouth, they are mucous membranes where germs can infect the body," Ruchman says. "The virus spreads when infected droplets from a sick person’s mouth or nose come in contact with another person’s face, often when they cough, sneeze or talk. Although it’s more likely to be infected by inhaling these droplets through your mouth or nose, they can also enter through your eyes, especially if you touch something that has viral particles on it and then rub your eyes."

Related: How to Prepare For The Potential Second Wave of COVID-19

Ruchman answers concerns and shares these tips as ways to protect your eyes and best wear protective gear:

  • Do glasses protect against COVID-19? If caring for someone who may be infected by the virus, consider wearing safety goggles, as wearing glasses will not provide adequate barrier protection, with the sides, tops and bottoms of the area around your eyes still exposed.

  • Still, opt for glasses over contacts. Consider switching to glasses, rather than contacts, as people who wear contacts tend to touch their eyes more often than the average person. Changing to glasses could help prevent exposure and reduce eye-rubbing, and glasses can offer some shield from infected respiratory droplets.

  • Get a mask that molds to your nose. Masks that have a flexible wire can be molded around the bridge of your nose, blocking the warm exhaled air from your mouth and preventing glasses from fogging. Alternatively, consider putting a tissue inside the top of the mask to capture moisture from your breath.

  • Wash glasses with soapy water. Healthcare practitioners who wear glasses or protective goggles (like surgeons) have done this for decades. This technique leaves a thin film that reduces surface tension that builds up from your breath, maintaining clear vision.

  • Stock up on critical eye care supplies and medications. Keep in mind that some insurers will approve a three-month supply of medication during a crisis or natural disaster.

Follwing these tips are important because people can reduce their risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 and remain comfortable while sheltering in place, Ruchman says.

"There has been a lot of focus on the importance of covering your mouth and nose to reduce spread of COVID-19, but people should remember that their eyes are also an entry point into their bodies and take all of the proactive steps that they can to reduce their risk of infection."

He adds, as an ophthalmologist, he provides all recommendations based on the guidelines outlined by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends practicing good contact lens hygiene and guarding your eyes, as well as your hands and mouth, to slow the spread of coronavirus.

After guidelines have been loosened, people should still try to continue common-sense practices like washing hands often, avoiding touching your face, regularly disinfecting surfaces and avoiding close contact with other people, he says.

If you wear contact lenses during this time, be extra vigilant about washing and disinfecting your hands before handling your contacts. If you find you tend to touch your eyes more often when you wear contact lenses, consider wearing glasses instead, Ruchman recommends.

"The American Academy of Ophthalmology has reported that there may be a connection to coronavirus and pink eye," he adds. "If someone in your family has contracted pink eye, the virus can be spread by either touching fluid from an infected person’s eyes, or touching objects that may carry the fluid. Be sure to keep an eye out for these types of signs."