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Should you keep wearing contact lenses during the COVID-19 pandemic? Experts have slightly differing opinions

The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests wearing glasses now, while the CDC says there is no evidence to suggest contact lens wearers are more at risk for acquiring COVID-19.

eye
Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more frequently than the average person.
Photo by Max Muselmann on Unsplash

If you’re one of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses, should you switch to glasses during the COVID-19 pandemic? Will doing so help protect you from becoming infected with coronavirus?

Some experts say yes, switch to glasses if you can. Others, however, say it’s an unnecessary precaution — if you follow good contact lens hygiene, that is.

And good contact lens hygiene means washing your hands. A lot.

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Switch to glasses

Probably the most notable group recommending that people swap their contact lenses for glasses is the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.

The major reason for that recommendation: Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more frequently than the average person.

“Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in,” the academy advises on its website. “Substituting glasses for lenses can reduce eye irritation, and they may be a barrier that reminds you not to touch your eye.”

“If you must wear contacts, be sure to clean and disinfect them exactly as your eye doctor recommends,” they add.

The AAO also notes that eyeglasses (and sunglasses) can help shield your eyes from airborne respiratory droplets.

“But keep in mind that they don’t provide 100% security,” the group warns. “The virus can still reach your eyes from the open sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses. For better protection, you must use safety goggles if you’re caring for a sick patient or potentially exposed person.”

Keep the contacts in

On Monday, however, five ocular scientists (from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia) published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Contact Lens & Anterior Eye that takes a slightly difference stance.

In the paper, the scientists discuss what the scientific literature says to date about the risk to contact lens wearers from viruses in general and from SARS-CoV-2 in particular.

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“Recent rumors have circulated stating that contact lens wear is unsafe, that wearers of contact lenses are more at risk of developing COVID-19, that certain contact lens materials are more ‘risky’ than others and that contact lens wearers should immediately revert to spectacle wear to protect themselves,” the scientists write.

They found no evidence to support those points, they say.

“Our findings indicate that contact lenses remain a perfectly acceptable form of vision correction during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as people observe good hand hygiene and follow appropriate wear-and-care directions,” says Lyndon Jones, the paper’s lead author and director of the Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, in a released statement.

Jones and his colleagues at CORE have summarized the paper’s key findings into these “five facts”:

  1. You Can Keep Wearing Contact Lenses. There is currently no scientific evidence that contact lens wearers have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 compared with glasses wearers. Consult your eye care practitioner with questions.
  2. Good Hygiene Habits are Critical. Thorough handwashing and drying are essential, as well as properly wearing and caring for contact lenses, ensuring good contact lens case hygiene, and regularly cleaning glasses with soap and water. These habits can help you stay healthy and out of your doctor’s office or hospital.
  3. Regular Eyeglasses / Spectacles Do Not Provide Protection. No scientific evidence supports rumors that everyday glasses offer protection against COVID-19.
  4. Keep Unwashed Hands Away from Your Face. Whether you wear contact lenses, glasses or require no vision correction at all, avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes with unwashed hands, consistent with World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
  5. If you are ill, temporarily stop wearing your contacts and use your glasses instead. Once you return to full health and have spoken with your eye doctor, you can start again. Make sure to use new contact lenses and a new lens case.

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The CDC’s guidance regarding contact lenses is in line with the paper’s findings. Last week, it added the following statements on the topic to its website:

  • Currently there is no evidence to suggest contact lens wearers are more at risk for acquiring COVID-19 than eyeglass wearers.
  • Contact lens wearers should continue to practice safe contact lens wear and care hygiene habits to help prevent against transmission of any contact lens-related infections, such as always washing hands with soap and water before handling lenses.
  • People who are healthy can continue to wear and care for their contact lenses as prescribed by their eye care professional.

The CDC also points out that “hydrogen peroxide-based systems for cleaning, disinfecting, and storing contact lenses should be effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.”

FMI:  The guidelines from the AAO and the CDC can be found on those organization’s websites. You can read the Contact Lens & Anterior Eye paper on that journal’s website. The journal is the official publication of the British Contact Lens Association.