Are Contact Lenses a COVID-19 Infection Risk?

If you’re not supposed to touch your face, should contact lens wearers shift to glasses during the COVID-19 pandemic?

David Chu, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, discusses contact lens safety precautions and how the virus might affect eyes.

Are people who wear contact lenses at an increased risk for COVID-19? 

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 transmission by handling of contact lenses. However, since contact lenses can cause eye irritation, wearers tend to touch their face or to rub their eyes more often, which puts them at a higher risk for acquiring infection. When handling contact lenses, users must practice strict hygiene. They must wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water and dry their hands completely before handling contact lenses. One of the more likely methods of transmission for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is by touching your mouth or nose after touching an infected surface. Our eyes are also covered with a mucous membrane.

Should people consider switching from contacts to eyeglasses during the pandemic?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have recommendation regarding contact lens use or routine use of protective eyewear in non–health care providers. People who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or who are living with someone diagnosed with the virus should consider switching to glasses.

Can the virus be transmitted through tears?

Although SARS-Cov-2 has been identified in human tears, it seems to be an uncommon occurrence. In larger case studies, patients who tested positive for the virus in their nose and throat did not have detectable levels in their tears. Whether tears can transmit COVID-19 is not known but appears unlikely.

Is pink eye a symptom of the virus?

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of tissue on the surface of the eyes that can be caused by infection, allergy or autoimmune diseases.

It is also is one of the relatively rare symptoms of COVID-19, besides the more common fever, cough, shortness of breath and diarrhea. Contact lens wearers with conjunctivitis should stop using contact lenses immediately since the lens may not fit properly and may cause an abrasion on the cornea or a bacterial cornea infection, which is painful and a potentially sight-threatening complication. 

Remind us of proper contact lens hygiene.

Standard lens care techniques should be adequate even during this pandemic. Proper contact lens hygiene depends on the type of the lens, so always look at the manufacturer’s instructions. In general, discard disposable contact lenses at a frequency recommended by your physician. Remove daily wear contact lenses each night. Prior to removing, inserting and handling the lenses wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel. Store your lenses in clean lens cases with disinfecting and storage solution, appropriate to the lens type, and replace your cases every few months.

by Patti Verbanas



Patti Verbanas
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