Should you pair goggles with your face mask to protect against the coronavirus? Doctors weigh in

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, has suggested that goggles could become a PPE necessity in the fight against the coronavirus. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, has suggested that goggles could become a PPE necessity in the fight against the coronavirus. (Photo: Getty Images)

Face masks, social distancing and proper hygiene are still the strongest defense against the coronavirus, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious diseases expert, suggested that goggles or “eye shields” may additionally protect against COVID-19.

Fauci made the motion on Wednesday during an Instagram Live interview with ABC News. "If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," he said.

While goggles and eye shields are “not universally recommended,” he said, eye protection could become mainstream personal protective equipment (PPE). “It might, if you really want perfect protection of your mucosal surfaces.” These surfaces are membranes covering respiratory openings that prevent non-sterile materials from entering the body, according to the American Society of Microbiology.

“You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye,” said Fauci. “Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces. So if you have goggles or an eye shield you should use it.” The day before, Fauci told the American Federation of Teachers that educators at “minimum” should wear a mask and eye protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally recommends eye protection for workers who might be exposed to infection and warns that COVID-19 could spread through droplet transmission or potentially by touching the eyes, nose or mouth after touching an infected surface. There is also the possibility of airborne transmission, when people inhale microbes suspended in the air. However, the World Health Organization said research was “urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of COVID-19.”

Still, face shields, reusable plastic barriers that cover the entire face including the eyes, could safeguard from respiratory droplets. Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, previously Yahoo Life, “You have to remember that the eyes are a route of infection and face shields are a method of protection. We wear face shields when caring for patients, and they’re much easier to wear correctly than masks.”

Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio tells Yahoo Life that for essential employees who can’t easily practice social distancing and healthcare workers, “It’s absolutely advisable to wear eye goggles with a mask.”

For the rest of us, while ocular transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is plausible, it’s not a primary infection route.

“Let’s be practical,” Steinemann tells Yahoo Life. “The eyes are a good defense mechanism against illness. When we blink, the eyes are coated with tear film, which contains antibodies, and the lids act as a windshield wiper, washing the surface clean.”

If the eyes are a conduit, from there, the virus must travel through the nose and throat before settling in the airways, where COVID-19 does maximum damage, he says. If people do wear eye protection, he says, goggles may work better than face shields due to their tighter fit.

While American schools debate opening plans for the fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school health staff include eye protection among their PPE. However, Steinemann says that option may not be practical for children.

Yahoo Life medical contributor Dr. Dara Kass agrees. “If you’re in a high-risk enclosed space like an airplane, restaurant or work in a hospital, it seems like eye protection is a good idea,” she tells Yahoo Life. “With children, there is no downside to eye protection until it distracts at school — they reason they’re there — and that’s the balance.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want daily wellness, lifestyle and parenting news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.

More From