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March 31, 2020

COVID-19 Awareness – The truth About Eyes and Eyewear


One thing is for sure at a time such as this – myths abound, and danger comes because the rumor-mongers will never let facts get in the way of a good story! But when lives are at stake, we all deserve to know the truth and learn the best ways to protect ourselves.

For general advice, there’s probably no better global source than the World Health Organization’s dedicated COVID-19 page; you can access that here. For local advice, stay tuned to your health ministry’s social media channels, but when you need to seek specific advice about your eyes and the coronavirus, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s start with a reminder that the coronavirus COVID-19 is a new virus and, as a result, the medical world still has much to learn about it. However, there’s a lot that we already do know – some of it general to all viruses of this kind, and some specific to COVID-19. So, let’s take a look at what – as eyewear users – we need to be aware of by answer some of your questions:

I know I can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding touching my nose, eyes, and mouth. I use contact lenses and sometimes eyeglasses… should I stop wearing both? Firstly, if you’re an eyewear user – you can’t stop touching your face. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) full advice is to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands – this is the critical part of their recommendation. So, as always with anything that involves the eye and the area surrounding it… hygiene is essential!

CNN recently advised contact lens users to put them on the shelf, and to wear glasses instead. Is the threat of catching the virus through my eye that high? Well, the threat of contracting the virus through the eye certainly exists. Theoretically it is possible, but there is no proof of it happening. Wearing contact lenses remains safe as long as you are washing your hands fully with soap and water and drying them (ideally) with clean paper towels. Keep following the standard procedure for dailies and monthlies… but note that now is the time to iron out those hygiene shortcuts you’ve gotten used to!

My friend told me I should wear surgical gloves when inserting or removing my lenses. What do you think? If you’re obeying strict hygiene protocols (as described above), the wearing of surgical gloves is not necessary and, in any case, placing and removing lenses with gloves on is nigh on impossible anyway.

I heard comfort or lubricating drops could attract the virus. Is this true? No. If you were using drops pre-COVID-19 you should continue using them now. Don’t do anything that could lead to your eyes drying or an increase in irritation – this is likely to lead to you unwittingly rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands.

Will my eyeglasses provide the same protection as medical PPE eyewear? No. There’s no evidence that a regular pair of spectacles or sunglasses provide any protection against any viral transmissions.

I sometimes take my eyeglasses off. Is placing them on my desk putting me at risk? You have to assume that it is. Why? Because COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces for days. If a virus carrier touched, coughed, or sneezed on the same surface your glasses are placed on, you could be transferring the virus to your face. So, when removing glasses, even temporarily, place them in your eyeglass case and securely close the lid.

I recently saw on TV that red or pink eyes are a symptom of the coronavirus. My eyes sometimes turn a little pink. Should I be alarmed next time this happens? You should be concerned whenever they turn red or pink… but don’t run away with the idea that you’ve contracted the coronavirus. Many viruses can cause conjunctivitis – the probable cause of your red eyes. It’s definitely something you need to get checked by your eye specialist next time it occurs though!

I’m still worried. What more can I do? Well. Being worried is good – but there’s no cause for alarm. Let us stress that following the correct hygiene protocols will help keep you safe. Disinfect your eyeglasses regularly though, and use a specially formulated glasses cleaning fluid along with a clean soft cloth. Avoid using hand-sanitizer on the lenses… it could affect their optical coating.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Simple:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for fully twenty seconds
  • Use an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, but not right before handling your contact lenses
  • Avoid unnecessarily touching your face (even with clean hands)
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes (even with clean hands)
  • Pay particular attention to your hygiene protocol when handling contact lenses
  • Disinfect eyeglasses regularly

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the same advice you were given when you collected your first contact lenses or eyeglasses. With the advent of COVID-19, when it comes to wearing lenses or glasses, nothing much has changed… we all just need to be far more diligent in maintaining our eyewear hygiene because, well, this isn’t the time to drop our guard.

For now, stay home, obey your local regulations, and stay safe.

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