Note: This article reflects the latest published information about COVID-19 as related to contact lens wear. As more information becomes available, I will update accordingly. (Last updated 3/22/2020)
The impact of the novel coronavirus disease is being felt all over the world. As our knowledge of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the most accurate information from reputable sources, so you can take the necessary steps to keep yourself and those around you safe from harm.
When it comes to your eye health, proper precautions need to be made to protect yourself from catching, or even potentially spreading, the COVID-19 virus. At this time, there is no recommendation for people to discontinue wearing contact lenses. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people should avoid touching their face, including their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Based on the advice of the American Optometric Association (AOA), here are five things that contact lenses wearers need to know about wearing and caring for their contact lenses during the current COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Wash your hands properly
Handwashing is a simple yet effective way to curb contamination and limit infection. Before every contact lens insertion and removal, one should wash their hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand drying with unused paper towels. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.
While this is nothing new, many contact lens wearers skip this step. Evidence suggests as many as 50 percent of contact lens wearers are not compliant with hand washing procedures, significantly upping their infection risk. Yet, this disconnect isn't for a lack of knowledge. A 2017 CooperVision-sponsored survey of 950 contact lens wearers reported that though 88 percent of respondents believed bacteria on fingers could transfer to eyes during lens insertion, 41 percent still didn't wash their hands prior to insertion. YIKES!
2. Disinfect your contact lenses
Contact lens wearers should either dispose of their daily disposable lenses each evening, or remove their frequent-replacement contact lenses to be cleaned and disinfected nightly. It is recommended that you follow the manufacturer's instructions and your optometrist's guidance for proper cleaning and disinfection of biweekly and monthly contact lenses.
If you're still concerned about potential infection, consider using an overnight hydrogen peroxide system, such as Clear Care. And if you're still unsure? Use this simple rule: "When in doubt, throw it out." Dispose of the used contact lenses and affiliated cleaning case.
3. Discontinue contact lens wear if sick
Healthy individuals can continue to wear their contact lenses as prescribed by their optometrist. However, those who are infected with coronavirus or feel ill with cold or flu-like symptoms should stop wearing contact lenses. When a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks, virus particles can spray from their mouth or nose. These droplets can enter another person's body through their mouth, nose, or eyes. Reports suggest that the COVID-19 virus can enter the body through the conjunctival blood vessels of the eyes, as well as cause a viral conjunctivitis ("pink eye"). Since the tears of a person with coronavirus are a source of contamination, ceasing all contact lens wear will help to minimize how often they are touching their eyes and spreading the virus.
4. Check your contact lens supply
If you will be needing to reorder contact lenses within the next few months, I recommend that you go ahead and order as soon as possible. I'm not encouraging you to hoard contact lenses by any means, but I am advising you to be vision-prepared. In accordance to recent guidelines issued by the CDC, eye care professionals have been instructed to postpone all non-urgent and elective visits, which includes routine eye exams. If your contact lens prescription is due to expire within the next few months, call your local eye care provider to discuss how they may assist you.
5. Glasses are not proven to offer protection
After reading all of that, if you're thinking about discontinuing contact lens wear for awhile, be aware that there is no scientific evidence that eyeglasses or sunglasses provide protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions. While, yes, glasses may prevent viral particles from spraying the eye directly, they won't protect the area above and below your eyes. Knowing that at least some of the virus can remain viable for hours to days on hard surfaces, there is still a risk of transmission by touching your glasses without wearing proper protection or following disinfection protocols.
Do you have any questions about COVID-19 and contact lens wear? Ask below!