It’s not *only* so you stop touching your face so much.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recently revealed that conjunctivitis—aka pink eye, an irritation of the eye that can cause redness, swelling, and discharge—may be a rare, early symptom of COVID-19. Now, the AAO is issuing a number of coronavirus eye safety tips—and one includes opting out of wearing contact lenses for the time being.
In a recent statement, ophthalmologist Sonal Tuli, MD, a spokesperson for the AAO, advised that those who wear contact lenses should stick to wearing their glasses for a while. “Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in,” said Dr. Tuli. “Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your face.”
The AAO also points out another benefit of wearing glasses over contacts during the coronavirus pandemic: They may add a layer of protection. “Corrective lenses or sunglasses can shield your eyes from infected respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Tuli—but he added that it’s not 100% protective. “The virus can still reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops, and bottoms of your glasses.” If you’re caring for a sick person, the AAO said, “safety goggles may offer a stronger defense.”
This information comes on the heels of a statement that, while rare, COVID-19 can cause conjunctivitis in a small number of patients—about 1 to 3%, per the AAO. The virus can also spread through infected eye fluids, or viral particles that enter through your eyes.
“We have been learning that eye symptoms can be involved in COVID-19 infection, and ocular secretions may be a means of transmission,” Vicente Diaz MD, a Yale Medicine ophthalmologist tells Health. “In those patients with eye symptoms, it is impossible to say whether infection may have started in the eyes. Face touching, eye rubbing, or exposure of the ocular surface to droplets containing the virus are all theoretical ways this can happen,” adds Dr. Diaz.
In addition to suggesting wearing glasses over contacts, the AAO also urged everyone to avoid touching their face or rubbing their eyes. “If you feel an urge to itch or rube your eye or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers,” said Dr. Tuli. He also added that, because dry eyes can lead to rubbing, it may be wise to add moisturizing drops to your routine, if you’re prone to dry, itchy eyes. Those with seasonal allergies are also at a higher risk of hand or eye touching.
If you absolutely must touch your face or eyes—or you continue to use contact lenses—handwashing is key: “Hand hygiene is more important than ever, especially for those that continue to use contact lenses,” Kevin Lee, MD, eye physician & surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates within the Pacific Vision Eye Institute in San Francisco, tells Health. That means thoroughly washing hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, and then properly drying them with a clean towel.
Other preventive measures surrounding coronavirus and eye health include not sharing eye drops or cosmetics right now, says Dr. Lee. “It’s possible for the tip of the eye dropper or mascara to be contaminated by coming into contact with the ocular secretions of someone who is COVID-positive,” he says.
As always, if you are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with coronavirus—fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath—self-isolate and call your doctor to see if you qualify for a coronavirus test. Depending on your doctor’s input, recommendations, and possible test results, you may need to further self-isolate and treat symptoms at home; and if your symptoms or conditions worsen, contact your medical provider again. Additionally, once symptoms clear, it’s best to wash your pillow covers, face towels, hand towels, and throw out any makeup or disposable contacts used while symptomatic.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.