Should I switch to glasses to stop spreading the virus?
Recently, there have been a number of media articles which made the case that people should stop wearing contact lenses during the Coronavirus pandemic to stop spreading the virus. If you already wear contacts and have been using them for a while then you probably instinctively know this doesn't make a lot of sense. The two key points the media make are that people who wear contact lenses touch their faces more than people who wear glasses and that Covid-19 can cause or increase the risk of conjunctivitis. To the uninitiated, on the surface, this may make some sense so we decided to look a little deeper. Having consulted our doctors who work with all kinds of eye infections, modes of correction and who have extensive clinical experience, here is what we think.
What we know about contact lens wear
- All contact lens wearers have been taught the importance of hand hygiene, especially when touching their eyes.
- They follow stringent hand cleansing routines before touching their lenses.
- Contact lens wearers don't touch their eyes very much. Mostly because it can displace the lens and cause irritation. When they do, it is with clean hands - see above.
- Patients who use contacts are well aware of the possibility of conjunctivitis and know the danger signs.
- Contacts allow the user to wear properly fitting eye protection.
- For doctors, nurses and other frontline careers, an extended wear contact lens like Air Optix Night & Day are an excellent option. They allow you to wear them for weeks without taking them out or cleaning them.
- The most any contact lenses user touches their eyes is twice a day. Which is while putting them in and taking them out.
What we know about glasses wear
- Hardly anyone ever cleans their glasses frames. The lenses get cleaned but the frames are often quite nasty! When last did you clean yours?
- Most glasses wearers will touch their glasses frequently to position them better on their faces. So you're touching your face which is what we are not supposed to do.
- If you are wearing eye protection, the frame arms get in the way and break any kind of airtight seal. This is a significant risk for frontline carers.
- Regular glasses on their own provide little, if any, protection for your eyes. You need specialised, wrap around goggles or shields for that.
Are contact lenses safe to use during the CoVid-19 pandemic?
So in summary. We don't agree with the general sentiments published by the media. They are too general and seem to stem from an article published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. In that piece, the AAO did not make nearly as strong a case as the media (CNN, we are looking at you), it was more something to consider and they provided a link to another article on proper contact lens care to help prevent infection. Fair enough, if you are handling your contacts with poor hygiene practices, then you really shouldn't be using them anyway as you are putting yourself at risk of infection from any number of pathogens, not just SARS-Cov-2.
Instead, we think that for doctors, nurses or any other frontline professionals who need vision correction and eye protection, this is exactly the wrong sort of advice. They would be far better served with continuous wear contacts and proper airtight eye protection. Their contact lenses could then be changed out only after the proper strip down and decontamination procedures have been followed and without ever having to touch their eyes or lose the ability to see what they are doing during the procedure.
If you are a regular contact lens user and consistently always follow the recommended hygiene regime, then there is no actual specific risk to using contact lenses. If you are a supermarket worker for instance or your job has you in regular contact with people during the pandemic then you can further protect yourself by wearing wrap-around eye protection to cover your eyes. This will give you greatly improved protection over glasses alone.
Lastly, always remember to follow the recommended social distancing and extra hygiene precautions recommended by your governments' healthcare departments.
Stay safe and stay well.