In this unprecedented time of unknowns, it feels like we’re all craving answers. We wanted to help answer some questions regarding COVID-19 and your eyes.
Can I catch the coronavirus through my eyes?
Coronavirus is spread through droplets. Most commonly, an infected person coughs or sneezes and the viral particles spray from their nose or mouth onto another person’s face and are then inhaled through the nose or mouth, but they can also get in (and infect you) through your eyes.
It is also possible to become infected by touching something the virus is on then touching your nose, mouth, or yes, eyes.
Is it safe to wear my contact lenses during this time where so much emphasis is being put on not touching your face?
Yes….for the most part. As always, you should only be touching your eyes or contact lenses with clean, dry hands. Use that 20 seconds of handwashing rule we’ve all become used to and you can still safely wear your contact lenses.
If you have any symptoms of sickness, you should discontinue wearing your contacts and opt for glasses until you feel better. Why?
- Not only in the case of the coronavirus, but anytime you have symptoms of a viral illness it is best to discontinue contact lens wear.
- Contacts can irritate your eyes when you’re sick – if you have a virus or the flu your eyes are more susceptible to eye discomfort.
- If you have a virus, your eye’s mucus membranes and tears can contain the virus; having a foriegn body like a contact lens in your eye can hold that virus in place instead of allowing it to be washed out by your natural immune system and your tears causing it to stick around longer
- Allowing the virus to potentially stick around longer may increase the risk of it activating in your eye causing conjunctivitis (pink eye). This infection typically resolves on its own and does not lead to permanent eye or vision damage, but is best to be avoided if possible
I heard pink eye can be a symptom of COVID-19 – what should I do if I think I have pink eye?
That depends on if you have other symptoms of COVID-19:
- If you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath you should contact your primary care provider whether or not you have any eye symptoms. That being said, conjunctivitis has been reported to be a sign of COVID-19. However, the latest reports show only 1-3% of people with the coronavirus will develop pink eye. So even if you do contract COVID-19 it is still most likely that conjunctivitis will not be one of your symptoms. If you do get pink eye as a symptom of COVID-19 it will resolve on its own and not cause any lasting issues.
- If pink eye is your only symptom, it is likely not an indication that you have the coronavirus. Conjunctivitis is a very common eye condition and the vast majority of the time it is not associated with COVID-19. Call our office to talk to the doctor on call for your next step – it is best for you to be evaluated either in the office or if you’re unable or uncomfortable coming in we can set up a telehealth video exam for you with one of our doctors.
Hydroxychloroquine and ocular side effects – what do I need to know?
- You may have heard that there is research being done that suggests that the drug Hydroxychloroquine (brand name Plaquenil) may be effective in reducing the severity and longevity of COVID-19. While we won’t speak to whether or not this medication will be helpful in treating the coronavirus, we can speak to how it could affect your eyes.
- Hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressive medication typically used to treat conditions like Malaria, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus. This drug can cause permanent eye damage, but the biggest factors that lead to ocular damage are how long someone has taken the medication (we’re talking years, and usually 7+ years to see damage) and cumulative dose. That means to develop vision loss you would need to take a lot of it for a long period of time. Hydroxychloroquine is a relatively safe drug when taken for a short period of time.
While we are closed for routine eye exams during this time to do our part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the doctors of Columbia Eye Consultants Optometry are still here to answer any additional questions you may have. We are also seeing any urgent or emergent eye related problems that pop up during this time. And we can still help with contact lens orders and deliveries as well as most problems related to urgent issues with your eyeglasses. Don’t hesitate to contact our office if we can be of help in any way. Be safe.