Coronavirus and Eye Safety
Coronavirus can spread through the eyes
Coronavirus causes mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath can show up 2 to 14 days after a person is exposed. People with severe infections can develop pneumonia and die from complications of the illness.
Limiting eye exposure can help. Here’s why:
When a sick person coughs or talks, virus particles can spray from their mouth or nose into another person’s face. You’re most likely to inhale these droplets through your mouth or nose, but they can also enter through your eyes.You can also become infected by touching something that has the virus on it — like a table or doorknob — and then touching your eyes.
Coronavirus may cause conjunctivitis— but it’s rare. If you see someone with conjunctivitis, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that person is infected with coronavirus. But health officials believe conjunctivitis, develops in about 1% to 3% of people with coronavirus. The virus can spread by touching fluid from an infected person’s eyes, or from objects that carry the fluid.
Eye care procedures may be delayed during the pandemic
For everyone’s health and safety, ophthalmologists and other doctors are being urged not to see patients during the coronavirus pandemic except for urgent or emergency care. This is important for two important reasons:
- Limiting contact between doctors and patients is key to helping reduce the spread of the coronavirus;
- The entire nation must conserve vital disposable medical supplies (like masks and faceshields) so they can be used in hospitals where they are most needed right now.
Routine patient visits will be rescheduled. Any eye surgeries and procedures that are not emergencies are postponed.
Recommendations to ophthalmologists
Although conjunctivitis is not one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has made a series of recommendations to ophthalmologists to act quickly and efficiently in the event that they are the first specialists to evaluate patients possibly infected. Some of these recommendations include:
- Checking if the patient also has respiratory symptoms.
- Ask the patient if he/she has travelled to areas with known outbreaks or has friends or family members who have recently returned from those areas.
- Specialists must protect their mouth, nose and eyes adequately against the suspicion of a patient presenting this virus.
Call your ophthalmologist for guidance in the following situations:
- You have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy and get regular eye injections;
- You notice changes in your vision (like blurry, wavy or blank spots in your field of vision);
- You notice a lot of new floaters or flashes in your vision;
- You suddenly lose some vision;
- You have eye pain, headache, red eye, nausea and vomiting.
Some practices may use telemedicine for “virtual” visits over the phone or video chat over a computer.
Eye doctors recommend the following precautions:
- 1. If you wear contact lenses, switch to glasses for a while.
Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the average person. “Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in. Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye,”.
- 2. Wearing glasses may add a layer of protection.
Corrective lenses or sunglasses can shield your eyes from infected respiratory droplets. But they don’t provide 100% security. The virus can still reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses. If you’re caring for a sick patient or potentially exposed person, safety goggles may offer a stronger defence.
- 3. Stock up on eye medicine prescriptions if you can.
Stock up on critical medications, so that you'll have enough to get by if you are quarantined or if supplies become limited during an outbreak. And as always, request a refill as soon as you're due. Don't wait until the last minute to contact your pharmacy.
- 4. Avoid rubbing your eyes.
We all do it. While it can be hard to break this natural habit, doing so will lower your risk of infection. If you feel an urge to itch or rub your eye or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers. Dry eyes can lead to more rubbing, so consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine. If you must touch your eyes for any reason — even to administer eye medicine — wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- 5. Practice safe hygiene and social distancing.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- You should especially wash your hands before eating, after using the restroom, sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
- If you can’t get to a sink, use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face — particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your face with your elbow or a tissue. If you use a tissue, throw it away promptly. Then go wash your hands.
- Avoid close contact with sick people. If you think someone has a respiratory infection, it’s safest to stay 6 feet away.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Regularly disinfect commonly touched surfaces and items in your house, such as doorknobs and counter tops