Coronavirus and Eye Health: Keep your Guard Up

The risk of coronavirus being transmitted through tears is quite low, however it’s important to guard your eyes — as well as your hands and mouth — to prevent transmission of the virus.

Woman wearing eyeglasses

If possible, experts suggest minimizing contact lens wear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RGstudio | Getty Images

A recent study evaluating patients with COVID-19 revealed that while the tears of the majority of infected patients tested were clear of virus, samples taken from the back of the nose and throat were brimming with COVID-19. According to the authors of the study, which was published online in Ophthalmology, their findings show that it is unlikely that infected patients are shedding virus through their tears.

Alice T. Epitropoulos MD, of Ophthalmic Surgeons & Consultants of Ohio and The Eye Center of Columbus, says that although the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in tears is low, it could still be possible to transmit via the eyes. “There is limited, but concerning, evidence to suggest that the ocular surface could be a pathway to infection as a result of contact with SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Epitropoulos, who is also a clinical assistant professor at The Ohio State University. The novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  Virus particles can spray from the mouth or nose into another person’s face, she explained, adding that while they are most likely to inhale these droplets, they potentially can also enter through your eyes.  Caretakers and health care personnel caring for COVID-19 patients should include safety googles or face masks in their personal protection equipment (PPE).

Efforts to mitigate COVID-19 transmission have established ‘ Wash your hands and don’t touch your face,’ as the national prescription. As a result, concerns about the safety of contact lens wear and eye make-up use abound. Dr. Epitropoulos recommends minimizing contact lens wear, if possible, to avoid touching the eyes. Furthermore, glasses serve as a form of eye protection.  “If contact lenses are worn, following good contact lens hygiene and avoiding touching or rubbing your nose, mouth and eyes can help protect you during the coronavirus pandemic.”

With respect to eye make-up use, while many are giving their skin a break from cosmetics while sheltering in place, plenty of others prefer to maintain their usual routines. To those in the second category, Dr. Epitropoulos says, “It’s unclear how long the virus remains viable outside the body, but studies have reported that the SARS-CoV-2 can survive for several hours depending on the surface. Just a few pearls: Don’t share makeup or use in-store makeup testers. Wash your hands before applying any makeup, eye cream, and moisturizers, and wash reusable makeup brushes and sponges regularly.  If you contract the virus, do not apply makeup and dispose of what is in your beauty bag.”

Most importantly, says Dr. Epitropoulos, “Regardless of the circumstances, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, wash hands frequently and practice social isolation.  With allergy season here, treat allergic conjunctivitis promptly to avoid the temptation of eye rubbing.”

Eye care and Contact Lens Wear tips from the American Optometric Association:

  • When using contact lenses or spectacles, wash hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand drying with unused paper towels. 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. People should avoid touching their face, including their eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Disinfect contact lenses. Contact lens wearers should either dispose of their daily disposable lenses each evening, or regularly disinfect their monthly and two-week lenses according to instructions from the manufacturer and one’s doctor of optometry.
  • Discontinue lens wear if sick. Consistent with recommendations for other types of illness, those who feel ill with cold or flu-like symptoms should cease contact lens wear.

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Rochelle Nataloni

Rochelle Nataloni is the editor of Duke Health News. She has written for Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today, Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today Europe, Retina Today, Glaucoma Today, Millennial Eye, … Read More

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