COVID-19 & Eyes

Coronavirus: How eyes may play a role in its spread

Our eyes may play an important role in the spread and prevention of the new coronavirus outbreak seen throughout the world, eye doctors and health experts say.

To cut your personal risk of contracting the new coronavirus, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. It is the mucous membranes (membranes that line various cavities in the body) that are most susceptible to transmission of the virus.

To avoid unknowingly infecting others with the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that Americans wear cloth face masks when out in public.

Face masks can reduce the spread of coronavirus by people who have no symptoms of the virus. Face masks, however, do not protect your eyes, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, said.

How is the new coronavirus related to your eyes?

The relationship between the transmission of the coronavirus and your eyes is complicated.

It’s thought that coronavirus spreads from person to person mainly through airborne “respiratory droplets” produced when someone coughs or sneezes, much like the flu virus spreads, the CDC says. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, and possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 

These droplets also can be spread to your eyes when you touch your face and then your eyes with unwashed hands.

Medical experts are unsure whether someone can contract this virus by touching a surface or object, such as a table or doorknob, that has coronavirus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.

This is why the CDC and World Health Organization recommend diligently washing your hands for 20 seconds or more with warm water and soap.

Glasses may offer some protection from coronavirus transmission

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends contact lens wearers switch to glasses temporarily as a way to reduce their risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory disease that can be fatal.

Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more often than those sporting glasses, the ophthalmology group says.

The American Optometric Association, though, says contact lenses are safe as long as the wearer follows directions for lens care.

Glasses and sunglasses don’t offer a complete barrier from respiratory droplets sprayed in your direction. Safety glasses, which protect the exposed sides and the area around your eyes may offer better protection, health care experts say.

WHO specifically recommends safety glasses for people who will be providing regular care for people with COVID-19.

Switch from contacts to glasses to reduce coronavirus?

You may have heard that you should switch from your contact lenses and wear your eyeglasses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why switch? One group of eye doctors, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), states that contact lenses may contribute to the spread of the new coronavirus, and wearing glasses may add a layer of protection against transmission of the COVID-19 disease.

Why you might not need to switch? Another group of eye doctors, the American Optometric Association (AOA), states that wearing contact lenses is safe and that “there is no scientific evidence that wearing spectacles or glasses provides protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions.”

Are contact lens wearers more risk for COVID-19 transmission?

Some fear that contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the typical person, and touching your eyes, nose or face (or any mucous membrane) increases your risk of contracting coronavirus.

“Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in,” says Dr. Sonal Tuli, an ophthalmologist in Gainesville, Florida, in a post on the AAO website.

“Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye,” says Tuli, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Wearing glasses instead of contacts also might shield your eyes from respiratory droplets — produced by coughing or sneezing — that might contain the virus, the AAO says.

Some eye doctors say wearing contacts is safe

Dr. Susan Resnick, an optometrist in the New York City area, says it’s OK to wear contact lenses unless you’re sick. That advice applies even if you’re fighting a common cold.

The safest option to decrease the risk of any contact lens-related infection is daily disposable lenses that you throw away after the one-day wearing period, Resnick adds.

“Healthy individuals can continue to wear and care for their contact lenses as prescribed by their doctor,” the American Optometric Association says.

Three prominent eye care researchers recently stated that “Contact lens wear remains a safe and highly effective form of vision correction for millions of people worldwide.”

For many, a contact lens is a necessary tool for vision correction. A contact lens is a medical device and provides great visual benefits.

The three eye care researchers and the AOA also dispute the benefit of wearing glasses to thwart COVID-19.

No scientific evidence supports that wearing glasses protects someone from being infected with the new coronavirus or any other virus.

A recent study published on March 24 in the ”Ophthalmology” journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology reviewed the potential transmission of COVID-19 through ocular mucous membranes and found that the ocular route of transmission is not well supported.

Eye doctors agree: Be vigilant in the care of contacts & glasses

Proper care of your contact lenses — and glasses — is especially important during this virus pandemic, as it should be to maintain optimal health at all times.

“It’s important to remember that although there is a lot of concern about COVID-19, common-sense precautions can significantly reduce your risk of getting infected,” Tuli says.

“So, wash your hands a lot, follow good contact lens hygiene, and avoid touching or rubbing your nose, mouth and especially your eyes,” she adds.

For contact lens wearers, the AAO and AOA offer these tips to reduce your risk of coronavirus infection:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and then dry them with a lint-free towel before handling your contacts. This should occur before every contact lens insertion and removal. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Disinfect your contact lenses properly. You should either dispose of your daily disposable lenses each evening, or regularly disinfect your monthly and two-week lenses according to instructions from the manufacturer and your eye doctor. Don’t use saline solution and rewetting drops to disinfect your contacts. Neither one is an effective or approved disinfectant.
  • Discontinue lens wear if you are sick. Consistent with recommendations for other types of illness, those who feel ill with cold or flu-like symptoms should cease contact lens wear.

The American Academy of Optometry statement on COVID-19 and contact lens wear states that “contact lenses are medical devices and should always be used with proper handling and hygiene as prescribed by your eye care professional”.

You should also take extra precautions if you wear glasses.

Resnick notes that the new coronavirus can remain on hard surfaces for hours to days, and then can transfer from your hands to your face to your glasses. Therefore, glasses should be cleaned regularly.

People “who remove their glasses frequently are more prone to contamination and transfer,” she says.

Safety goggles offer better COVID-19 protection

The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that glasses don’t offer complete protection from respiratory droplets. The virus still can reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses.

If you’re caring for someone who has developed COVID-19, the disease caused by this new virus, or who potentially has been exposed to the virus, safety goggles might be a safer option.

Why are my glasses foggy?

Body heat and air flow lead to foggy lenses, explains optician Shannen Knight, owner of A Sight for Sport Eyes, an eyewear retailer based in West Linn, Oregon.

When you’re wearing a face mask, you repeatedly breathe out warm air. This air then can sneak out of the top of your mask and steam up the lenses of your glasses. Of course, this can make it difficult to see.

According to a study published in The Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, a face mask directs much of the exhaled air upward.

The “misting” of lenses happens when warm water vapor from your breath lands on the cooler lenses, producing tiny droplets that scatter light and reduce the lenses’ ability to transmit contrast (when light colors remain light and dark colors remain dark).

“The droplets form because of the inherent surface tension between the water molecules,” the study’s authors said.

7 ways to avoid foggy glasses

While face masks help us avoid unknowingly transmitting coronavirus, millions of eyeglass wearers are discovering the nuisance of mask-induced foggy lenses.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommending the wearing of face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, fogged-up glasses are a problem “affecting a large chunk of the population,” says Chicago optometrist Joanna Slusky, founder and CEO of Halsted Eye Boutique.

What can you do about your fogged-up glasses?

We have compiled seven tips for lifting the fog from your glasses when you’re wearing a mask, but first let’s go over why your lenses are fogging up in the first place.

Now that you know why your lenses fog up, let’s review seven ways to prevent this fog when you’re wearing glasses and a face mask.

1. Wash the lenses with soapy water

The study from The Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England supplies a simple solution to the foggy-lens problem, which it refers to as an “annoying phenomenon.”

Authors of the study recommend that before slipping on a face mask, you should wash your glasses or sunglasses lenses with soapy water and shake off the excess moisture. Then, let your glasses air dry or gently dry the lenses with a clean microfiber cloth.

Using this method, the lenses shouldn’t fog up once you put on the mask and glasses, the study says. Why? Cleaning the lenses with soapy water leaves a thin film that reduces the “inherent surface tension” and prods the water molecules to form a transparent layer.

To avoid damage, don’t clean your lenses with products like baby shampoo, toothpaste or shaving cream, Slusky says.

2. Seal the mask

A common trick employed by doctors involves sticking a piece of double-sided tape across the bridge of the nose before putting on a mask, says Shaun Veran, co-founder of OURA. OURA’s wellness products include reusable, antibacterial face masks.

“If you place the double-sided tape between the inside of the mask and the bridge of your nose, it will create a better seal,” Veran says. “You can also place an additional piece of cellophane or masking tape over the mask as well.” 

3. Make sure the mask fits well

A loose-fitting mask lets exhaled air head toward your glasses, but a snugly fitting mask can shoot that air out of the bottom or sides of the mask and away from your glasses.

For a better fit, Veran recommends looking for masks equipped with moldable pieces around the nose (such as a metal strip) or masks that come in various sizes.

“If the mask is well-fitted, it will dramatically help to prevent the amount of hot air that can reach the lenses,” Veran advises.

“Make sure that your face mask has a snug fit around the nose bridge,” he adds. “The more conformed the mask is around the bridge of your nose, the less of that hot air will end up hitting your lenses.”

If you’ve crafted your own cloth mask, create a seal around the nose by inserting a moldable item into the upper part of the mask, Slusky says. This could be a paper clip, pipe cleaner, twist tie or folded piece of aluminum foil.

Looking for more advice on how to properly wear your face mask? The CDC details how to make a face mask (and how to clean it afterward).

4. Adjust your glasses

If your glasses have nose pads, you can tweak the pads so that the frames sit slightly farther from your face, Knight says.

“This will allow that hot air to escape instead of getting trapped between your face and the lenses of the glasses,” she says.

Knight cautions that altering the nose pads may slightly change your vision if you wear glasses with progressive lenses or lenses with a strong prescription. If that happens, you might need to hold your head at a different angle to compensate for the vision change, she says.

5. Try de-fogging products

Applying over-the-counter anti-fogging sprays, waxes and gels to your lenses before putting on your glasses can quickly disperse tiny fog droplets when you’re wearing a mask, Knight says.

“Some work better with different body chemistry, so you may need to try a few brands to see which one works best for you,” she says.

She warns against using anti-fogging products designed for cars or other purposes, as they might ruin your prescription lenses.

6. Breathe downward

Well, it might be awkward, but breathing downward can be a quick anti-fog fix, Slusky says. This sends the air away from your glasses.

How do you breathe downward? Hold your upper lip over your lower lip. Then blow air downward, as if you’re playing a flute.

7. Check out anti-fog lenses

This won’t fix your foggy-lens problem right away, but you might consider buying lenses with an anti-fog coating. An anti-fog coating gives you a hassle-free answer to foggy lenses, regardless of whether the obstructed vision is triggered by a face mask or something else.

By John Egan, reviewed by Valerie Kattouf, OD, FAAO   From: All About Vision

Click here for our COVID-19 Response page!

The Eye Works Optometry