An ophthalmologist’s guide to eye care and coronavirus

Professor Christina Grupcheva’s guide to contact lenses and glasses safety during the pandemic

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During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, patients will have a range of questions about their eye health – and what steps are safe to take. Professor Christina Grupcheva offers six insights into the use of contact lenses and glasses safety, tackling some commonly held myths, along with a guide for patients for healthy contact lens wear.

1: It is safe for contact lens wearers to use their lenses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There is no evidence that contact lens users are more likely or prone to contracting COVID-19, or that contact lenses can transmit the disease. When all standard protective measures and instructions for use are followed correctly, contact lenses (soft or rigid) are generally a safe means of vision correction.

There is absolutely no data to suggest that contact lens wearers touch their eyes any more frequently than non-contact lens users. In fact, evidence actually demonstrates the opposite, as eye care professionals educate and encourage their patients to generally abstain from touching and rubbing their eyes. Indeed, eye care practitioners all over the world dedicate significant time to educating contact lens wearers on proper hygiene. As a result, it is probably the widest and most developed training programme in eye care, with many contact lens wearers having already developed healthy hygiene habits.

2: If patients are healthy, there is no need or proven benefits for them to change to wearing glasses during the pandemic. Contact lenses provide clear vision and a wider field of view, without having additional accessories weighing on the nose and ears. Moreover, many contact lens wearers only have ‘emergency glasses.’ Switching to these could affect a patient’s quality of vision and cause them to touch their face more often in order to adjust the frames. Patients may also squeeze and squint their eyes more, potentially causing tear film disruption and eye irritation. Wearing glasses can also trigger ‘fogging’ when worn alongside a face mask, meaning glasses need to be cleaned properly more regularly.

There is absolutely no data to suggest that contact lens wearers touch their eyes any more frequently than non-contact lens users.

Professor Christina Grupcheva, ophthalmologist

3: In the case of sickness, contact lens wearers should immediately switch to wearing glasses. This includes displaying symptoms of a suspected, or diagnosed, case of COVID-19. It also includes symptoms showing a deterioration in eye health, such as a red or pink eye. It is important that patients have good eye vision every day, their contact lenses feel comfortable and the white of the eyes remains white. If one or more of these elements is missing, you should stop wearing your contact lenses and seek qualified eye care professional advice. The first consultation at this time should be done by phone, where your eye care professional will be able to guide you on how best to proceed. Follow the recommendations of the specialist as closely as possible.

Patients who have been diagnosed with a viral respiratory infection like COVID-19 should also stop wearing lenses immediately. This is because a bacterial infection might be developing at the same time as the immune system gets weaker. This is a pre-condition for additional eye problems like microbial keratitis (a disease that left untreated can lead to blindness).

4: When talking about infection in general, daily disposable lenses seem to be safer, as they pose less risk of infection. There is still no evidence, however, that one type of contact lens is better than any other at this time.

5: When discarding lenses, users should carefully disinfect them and wrap them in clean tissue to be on the safe side. Theoretically the lens is a surface, however it “swims” in tear film, which offers lots of natural antiviral protection.

6: Glasses wearers should carefully wash their glasses with soap and water three to four times a day. This is particularly important during a pandemic. Special attention should be given to ‘emergency’ or reading spectacles. The latter require more careful handling in a pandemic as they aren’t worn on the face at all times. They should be properly stored and never left on dirty surfaces or unattended.