When it comes to protecting yourself from the novel coronavirus, masks and hand washing are givens. But wearing glasses may help protect you, too.
Back in April, the American Academy of Ophthalmology put out a statement suggesting this, and report published in JAMA Ophthalmology in September 2020 points to an interesting potential association between glasses wearing and coronavirus infection. A yet-to-be published study from India—which means we don't yet know if it holds up under review—suggests that the risk of contracting COVID-19 was three times lower among glasses wearers.
In the JAMA Ophthalmology study, rResearchers in China noticed that patients admitted to one hospital in Suizhou with COVID-19 were far less likely to wear glasses than the general population in China is. In the province where Suizhou is located, about 31.5 percent of the population wears glasses. But among the 276 COVID-19 patients in the Suizhou hospital, only 6 percent were glasses wearers.
Does that mean that glasses protect you from the novel coronavirus?
Maybe. Researchers stress that it's too soon to tell, and that can't be determined from this study alone. But they do suggest glasses might help protect you in a few ways.
Glasses can keep you from touching your eyes so much.
That's especially true if you wear contacts. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, people who wear contacts touch their eyes more often.
The coronavirus enters your body through mucous membranes, and that can include your eyes. So if you pick up the virus on your hands, it can be transferred to your eyes. "Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye,” says ophthalmologist Sonal Tuli, M.D. in the statement.
Glasses may act as a shield from infected respiratory droplets.
Glasses may act as a kind of splatter guard, so to speak, from viruses that get spewed into the air from coughs, sneezes, or in conversation. It's the same reason people have been using face shields in addition to masks.
In late July, in an Instagram Live conversation with ABC news, Anthony Fauci, MD, suggested that "if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," ...if you really want perfect protection of the mucosal surfaces."
(But perfect protection, of course, would also involve not walking around with your mask pulled off your nose, too. Get more on why that's dangerous here.)
And Dr. Fauci also pointed out that goggles or face shields "are not universally recommended at this time."
Of course, there are caveats
In an editorial accompanying the JAMA Ophthalmology research from China, Johns Hopkins infectious diseases expert Lisa Maragakis, MD, MPH, puts things into perspective with some scientific caution.
She underscores that conclusions can't be drawn from one study, of course. And points out that there may be alternative explanations for the findings—there may have been "another unknown and unmeasured factor associated with the risk of COVID-19," she writes.
But she mentions that it seems plausible, adding "although eyeglasses do not provide the same extent of eye protection as goggles or a face shield, they may serve as a partial barrier that reduces the inoculum of virus in a manner similar to what has been observed for cloth masks."
Glasses, of course, aren't full-seal barriers, and futzing with them could introduce some trouble, too.
Carolyn Duong, OD, an optometrist at the UCLA Stein Eye Institute offers a word of warning if you do switch out of your contacts and into your glasses. "A study showed that the virus could live up to three days on plastic and stainless steel—which are likely the same materials that some glasses are made of. Therefore, if you are opting to wear glasses, please clean them," she said.
If you hate glasses or don't have a pair, Dr. Duong says the risk of developing COVID-19 through your eyes is fairly low—just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before inserting and removing lenses, she says.
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