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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: