- As COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, some doctors are suggesting people ditch their contact lenses until the pandemic ends.
- Evidence suggests the virus can enter the body through the eyes. Some eye doctors say glasses can also serve as an added protective barrier against the virus.
- Some doctors disagreed, saying the possibility of the virus entering the body through the eyes was rare.
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As the rate of coronavirus infections rise in the US, some doctors are encouraging the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses to put on their glasses instead.
In a statement put out by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a medical association of 32,000 ophthalmologists, the group suggested contact lens wearers switch to glasses for a while, as the coronavirus can be contracted through the eyes, if you unwittingly have virus particles on your fingers.
These particles are more often inhaled through the mouth and nose, but they can also enter through the eyes, though the CDC says "this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." Eyes, noses, and mouths all have mucosal membranes in places like the nose and throat, which provide a route for viruses to enter the body. Once in the body, the virus begins replicating, until it ultimately floods the body with viral particles.
"Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in," Dr. Sonal Tuli advised in the statement. "Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye."
She added that glasses could provide an extra layer of protection against the virus.
An April 2019 study published in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye noted that proper hand washing hygiene was especially crucial for people who wore contact lenses. According to the CDC, "wearing contact lenses can increase your chance of getting an eye infection — especially if you do not care for them the right way."
The CDC recommends always washing your hands with soap and water before handling the lenses, keeping the lenses away from all water, which can let in germs, and properly cleaning the lenses. And don't neglect the contact lens case, which also requires cleaning.
Some experts believe the risk of getting COVID-19 by touching the eyes is low
"Can you end up with COVID-19 from the virus entering through the eye? Theoretically, it's possible, but we have no proof of that," Dr. Thomas Steinemann, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told CNN.
Three of the world's most published researchers on eye health wrote in an advisory from the Centre for Ocular Research & Education that contact lens wearing is safe, and encouraged people to disinfect their contact lenses.
"Despite myths and misinformation that have arisen over the past 48 hours, contact lens wear remains a safe and highly effective form of vision correction for millions of people worldwide," they wrote.
But whether the organization was for or against contact lens wear, they all agreed on some key guidelines people should take, like disinfecting glasses and contact lenses and avoiding eye rubbing.
On the heels of reports that 1% to 3% of people who had coronavirus also had conjunctivitis, or pink eye, many national eye doctor associations issued guidance telling eye doctors to reschedule all non-essential eye appointments, as it is impossible to socially distance while examining someone's eyes.
"Already, a handful of our ophthalmologist colleagues have died from COVID-19," the statement said. "This is an existential crisis. We as physicians must respond to it and support our colleagues and our communities."
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