But does this mean everyone should wear eye protection to prevent COVID-19? Not exactly, says ophthalmologist Thomas Steinemann, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center. “It’s a provocative and fascinating study. But in the scheme of things, this is a small portion of the population. We’d require a much larger study before making any conclusions about whether wearing glasses really does mean people are touching their eyes less often, and therefore decreasing infection rates,” Dr Steinemann said.
Coronavirus can spread through the eyes when an infected person coughs or sneezes near your eye or if you touch an infected object before touching your eye.
A possible link
The study came from an observation made in China. It was noticed that very few sick patients wore glasses, which was remarkable since nearsightedness is common in the country. Experts examined hospital records from patients with Covid-19 to learn more. Of 276 patients over a 47-day period, only 16 (5.8%) had myopia or nearsightedness that required them to wear glasses for more than eight hours a day.
Earlier research shows that more than 30% of people in the region needed glasses for nearsightedness. Dr Steinemann says it could be that glasses serve as a reminder to avoid touching your eyes. It may also be that they act as a partial barrier, protecting eyes from the splatter of a cough or sneeze.
But there are several factors other than wearing glasses that could explain the study’s finding. It could be that people who wear glasses tend to be older and more likely to stay home during the pandemic, compared with people who do not wear glasses. Or maybe people who can afford glasses in China are less likely to contract the virus because they can afford to live in less-crowded spaces.
Should you wear eye protection or not?
While it’s too soon to say everyone should wear eye protection, Dr Steinemann said that goggles and face shields offer valuable protection for caregivers of infected individuals and for frontline health care workers, especially ICU staff and respiratory therapists.
For the rest of us, wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and practicing social distancing continue to be our best bet against the virus.