It turns out eyes aren’t just the windows to the soul. They’re also the windows into the rest of your body—and in the age of COVID-19, that can put contact lens wearers at a disadvantage.
According to the Contact Lens Journal, there are about 140 million people worldwide who use contact lens vision correction in one form or another. This kind of eyewear correction can increase the risk for issues like bacterial keratitis and of course catching COVID-19.
Anyone looking to practice good hygiene during a pandemic needs to be aware of the issues surrounding contact lenses—and what to do about it.
So the questions arise:
Is it safe to wear your contact lenses during COVID-19?
Or should you wear your glasses instead?
Which one is safer?
To find out the answers keep reading below.
However before we dive into that, it doesn’t hurt to go over some common questions and misconceptions people have about COVID-19.
Such as why there are different terminologies being thrown around and what each of their differences mean.
If you already know the differences, you can skip the first section about the definitions and science and start reading about contact lens safety by clicking here.
What is the Difference Between COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Corona Virus?
You may have heard three common terms to describe the pandemic, the Corona Virus, COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2.
But what exactly are the differences between all three? Are they all the same? Different strains?
Well, the sort of correct answer would be they are all the same. But technically they are not the same, rather all interrelated.
First, the definition of COVID-19:
COVID-19 is a disease, it is not a virus.
COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ ‘D’ for disease and 19 indicates the year it was discovered (2019).
If COVID-19 is a disease and not a virus, then what is SARS-CoV-2?
SARS-CoV-2 is short for ‘severe’ ‘acute’ ‘respiratory’ ‘syndrome’ ‘coronavirus 2’.
It is the 2nd one of its strain. The first one is called SARS-CoV Beta
It is a virus.
It is the actual virus that results in COVID-19 (the disease).
You may be asking yourself, SARS? Is this the same SARS outbreak we had in 2002-2003?
No, it’s not the same virus, however it is in the same genus as it affects the respiratory system specifically, hence its acronym.
Now that you understand that SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease, what about Corona Virus? Why does everyone call it the Corona Virus?
Corona Virus is the generic term that includes a large family of different strains of viruses. It is like calling the term “the flu”.
It is called that way because under an electron microscope the shape of the viruses are pointy like a “crown” or a “corona”.
It’s important to note that there are other strains of the Coronavirus which are not SARS-CoV-2.
These three terms are interrelated and are commonly misrepresented because the virus (SARS-CoV-2) causes the disease (COVID-19) and is one of 7 of the Coronavirus strain.
So to call it the “Corona Virus” is technically right but it’s the least accurate, unfortunately it is the most commonly spoken term of the three.
But the question remains, if COVID-19 is a disease, then how does it spread?
You get “Corona Virus” from someone who has the disease (COVID-19) and through the air or through water droplets, has spread the virus to you. (SARS-CoV-2)
Now that we understand the differences between them and their significance, let’s get back to contact lenses and how you should approach using them during COVID-19.
Does Wearing Contacts Make You More Likely to Receive COVID-19?
No, there is no evidence that the mere act of wearing contact lenses makes you more likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 (which leads to COVID-19), however the practice of wearing contact lenses itself carries obvious risks.
People who don’t practice good hand hygiene, for example, can potentially bring COVID-19 to the contact lenses, which are then placed in the eyes—with obvious consequences.
The good news is that with COVID-19, the eyes do not yet appear to be a particular vulnerability beyond the obvious. For example, one study stated “the results from this study suggests that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission through tears is low.”
Should You Wear Glasses Instead? Are They Safer?
Wearing glasses—which are easier to take off without touching the lenses themselves—might seem like an obvious way to protect yourself. But according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, ordinary glasses shouldn’t be considered protective eye wear.
If you do want to protect your eyes, you would be expected to wear safety goggles, which can be worn over eyes with contact lenses.
Why don’t glasses work as eye protection?
For starters, many people who have glasses don’t always wear them. They may pick them up to go for a drive or to read—but otherwise, they keep them down.
There’s also the problem of dust/debris getting in through the side. Glasses are designed to be comfortable, to look good, and to correct vision. They’re not designed for protection especially from the sides which are the most vulnerable.
There’s also the issue of sneaky hygiene. If there were particles of an infected person that were to land on the glasses, they would potentially be screened by the glasses. But then the owner of the glasses would have to touch them to take them off, potentially leading to transmission of the virus (SARS-CoV-2).
So if you are wearing glasses as an extra precaution, make sure to sanitize and clean your glasses every day, multiple times a day.
So Should I Wear Contact Lenses During COVID-19? Is it Safe?
According to the Contact Lens Journal study,
“to date no evidence suggests that contact lens wearers who are asymptomatic should cease contact lens wear due to an increased risk of developing COVID-19.”.
So, yes you can wear contact lenses during COVID-19, however maintaining good contact lens and hand hygiene should be considered must-haves in your daily routine if you are going to do so as mentioned above.
A Reminder on Proper Contact Lens Hygiene
Although contact lenses won’t protect your eyes, remember that you can continue to wear them throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as long as you take proper precautions. The most obvious is to practice proper contact lens hygiene.
We know most contact lens users already know this, but here’s a reminder.
- Sanitize your hands with soap before touching anything first and foremost. Make sure they are dried off completely with an unused towel or paper towel or air dry. By drying off with a used towel, you can unknowingly be compromising your hand wash.
- Don’t store contact lenses in water. If your contact lenses come in contact with water, remove them quickly and clean/disinfect them. This will help prevent any infection that could come about as a result of contact with the water.
- Don’t clean with water or saliva. Storing contact lenses in water is a no-no, for the reasons mentioned. But if you’ve been in the habit of quickly wiping off contact lenses with saliva, keep in mind that there may be similar problems, if not worse. You want to disinfect contact lenses so that any potentially contaminants are eliminated. A contact lens isn’t truly clean unless you’ve used the right cleaning products.
- Avoid “topping off” your contact lens solution. Using old solution isn’t a good idea, even if it seems like a frugal way to keep yourself well-stocked on contact lens solution. Use clean, fresh solution to ensure that your contact lenses are in the best possible condition.
Remove All Doubt: The CDC’s Official Guidance on Wearing Contact Lenses
To remove all doubt, here is the Center for Disease Control’s official guidance regarding contact lenses:
- 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.
Also the CDC states that RGP contact lenses or rigid gas permeable contact lenses are effective in clearing the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
However, if you DO have COVID-19, doctors suggest using glasses.
Once you return to full health and have spoken with your eye doctor, you can start using contacts again. Just make sure to use fresh contact lenses and a new contact lens case.
This is a unique situation, and won’t last forever. But when there is an infectious disease going around, it never hurts to be too careful.
We hope our guide to wearing Contact Lenses during COVID-19 answered most of your questions and helped keep you, your family, and your eyes safe.