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Coronavirus, eyes, glasses and contact lenses

March 30, 2020
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Coronavirus, eyes, glasses and contact lenses

Coronavirus is a very contagious virus, which we are fighting against every day. As time passes, however, it is possible to understand something more about its behavior, the ways of infection and the situations of risk. Having more information also means to have more chances to win this invisible enemy. Today, we talk about the eyes, what to do if you wear contact lenses and if glasses can be an additional protection.

Coronavirus, the infection also passes through the eyes

As indicated by the WHO, one of the ways in which the novel coronavirus is transmitted is also through the eyes. For example, if the hands have come into contact with the virus and are then brought to the eyes, but also to the mouth and nose, it is possible to contract the virus. This is why one of the recommendations is not to touch the face with hands that have not yet been disinfected and to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for a minute and/or use a solution that contains at least 60% alcohol. Not only that, if the safety distance of one meter, better two or six feet, is not respected, it is also possible that infected droplets emitted by a sick person, who has just coughed or sneezed without protecting himself with the bent elbow or a handkerchief, reach the eyes. From here, the virus can infect the body through the tear ducts, as underlined by Dr. Azzolini, professor of diseases of the visual apparatus at the Department of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Insubria, Italy. Another vehicle of infection, as we will see in the dedicated paragraph, could be contact lenses that are not properly manipulated.

Coronavirus, is conjunctivitis a symptom?

One of the possible symptoms of coronavirus is conjunctivitis, as reported by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, not all conjunctivitis are a sign of having coronavirus, sometimes they are simply linked to allergic phenomena, as it is not said that those who contracted coronavirus also have conjunctivitis. In fact, a study conducted a month ago by a Chinese team observed that of 30 people with COVID-19 only one had conjunctivitis (XIA MM et al, J Med Virol, 2020).

Coronavirus, what to do with contact lenses

With a press release a few days ago, the Italian Ophthalmological Society warned about the use of contact lenses, especially the multi-use ones. This is essentially for three reasons. The first is that the virus can survive on surfaces outside the body for a few days. A study (Kamf et al, The Journal of Hospital Infection) analyzed several types of coronavirus and observed that the virus can survive on silicone, the material from which contact lenses are made, for up to 5 days. The study did not analyze the particular case of the novel coronavirus but this behavior is likely to be common to all types of coronavirus. The second is that those who wear contact lenses are more likely to touch their face and eyes with their hands. The third is that if the lenses have been contaminated and are not properly manipulated they could contaminate the mucous membrane of the eyes, the hands and the lens container. In fact, the liquids used for cleaning are generally antibacterial and do not counteract the virus. The advice of the Italian Ophthalmological Society is to temporarily suspend the use of contact lenses and switch, if this is possible, to the glasses. If this is not possible then the advice is to prefer disposable contact lenses and to always handle them only after washing your hands with soap and water for a minute and/or having disinfected them with solutions with at least 60% alcohol.

Coronavirus, the role of glasses

Glasses, both prescription glasses and sunglasses, could also have an additional protective role. In fact, they can offer an additional small protection to the face, for example when we have to leave the house to shop at the grocery store. The idea behind is that glasses may protect the eyes from infected droplets. The glasses should always be washed with water and neutral soap.

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