Medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are supposed to wear eye protection such as goggles or face shields, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — so could wearing eyeglasses offer some protection, too?
A recent study by five ocular scientists published in Contact Lens & Anterior Eye, a peer-reviewed medical journal, says no.
There’s “no scientific evidence that wearing standard prescription spectacles provides protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions,” and there is “currently no evidence to suggest an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 through contact lens wear compared to spectacle lens wear,” the study says.
Though it may seem like glasses provide extra protection against coronavirus because the lenses block the eyes, that’s not the case, the new study found. “[A] simple glasses frame does not seal the air around the eyes, and therefore cannot provide adequate protection,” said lead author Lyndon Jones, director of the Centre for Ocular Research & Education at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
That finding is in line with CDC’s guidance for medical professionals. The agency advises them to wear “goggles or a disposable face shield that covers the front and sides of the face.” The CDC has also noted there’s no evidence suggesting contact-lens wearers are at greater risk for becoming infected with COVID-19 than eyeglass wearers.
Non-health-care workers are discouraged from using medical personal protective equipment, especially N95 respirators, which are in short supply. (The CDC, however, recently recommended that everyone wear a cloth face covering in public when “other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”)
The American Academy of Ophthalmology had suggested in March that contact-lens wearers might want to switch to spectacles to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in part because people touch the mucous membranes in their eyes less when they wear glasses instead of contacts.
The professional association’s recommendation still holds, a spokesman told MarketWatch.
“The fact is, there’s not a lot known about COVID-19 and its behavior in the eye,” said Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesman for the organization. “As ophthalmologists, we look at what is known about other viruses and how they can be transmitted through tears asymptomatically.”
He added: “We also know that most patients don’t follow proper contact lens hygiene. Add that together with a dose of common sense, and we err on the side of caution, and suggest patients consider taking a break from contact lenses for a while.”
But contacts and glasses offer comparable risks when it comes to coronavirus, the study found. One is not better than the other — unless a person is sick, in which case they should wear their glasses, Jones said. This applies to all illnesses, not just COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, he said.
“Taking this step limits the chances of developing any inflammatory response that can occur secondary to a viral infection,” he said, such as a sore or red eye.
Until the illness passes, you should continue to wear glasses, Jones said. Afterward, check with your eye-care practitioner to make sure it is safe to go back to contacts. Once you’re cleared, you should get fresh lenses and a fresh contact-lens case.
If you aren’t sick, you can wear either contact lenses or glasses, but be sure to take the necessary precautions. People should always wash their hands and dry them before touching any part of their face, “regardless of whether they are contact-lens wearers, glasses wearers or require no vision correction at all,” Jones said.
Similarly, the CDC advises that “contact lens wearers should continue to practice safe contact lens wear and care hygiene habits.” It’s important that people who wear glasses regularly dry and wash them, Jones added, “as the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on the plastic that makes up spectacles.”