Expert Blogs | Eye Health
COVID-19 and Your Eyes
photo of checking eyesight of senior man

Even though some rates of infection and hospitalization from COVID-19 are thankfully going down in parts of the country, there’s still a possibility every day of catching the virus as it waxes and wanes.

How COVID-19 affects the eye is still not totally clear, but we know that the virus can be present on the surface of the eye and in some secretions like our tears, which indicates a risk of transmission through ocular tissue.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, those droplets might also enter the membranes of the eye. We think the most common symptom of COVID-19 infection is conjunctivitis, more commonly referred to as pinkeye. In reality, though, there are lots of conditions that cause a pink or red eye, from bacteria to allergies to viruses. However, just like the common cold or allergies, nasal or eye symptoms can likely occur in COVID-19 infection, too.

One question that has commonly come up is whether contact lenses can be safely worn, since they are placed directly on the eye. It’s important to know that contact lenses won’t give someone COVID-19, but the American Optometric Association reinforces that they can be safely worn only with proper care, such as having good contact lens hygiene, washing your hands frequently, and not touching or rubbing your eyes.

If you get symptoms of conjunctivitis, always remove the lenses and wear glasses until your eyes feel better. Daily disposable lenses are a really good option and can be worn intermittently until all symptoms have passed, but wearing your glasses remains the best option.

Always make sure your hands are thoroughly washed with mild soap before inserting your contact lenses, even if you don’t have COVID-19.

Most eye care practices actually closed their doors and offices for routine eye care during the initial surge of the pandemic in March 2020. This left a lot of our patients without access to eye exams, glasses, and their contact lens prescription, in some cases for several weeks.

While we found creative ways to help, such as telehealth or online ordering, it still posed a risk for some without full access to care. Things are pretty much back to normal now, but those creative options have stuck with us and have actually increased and improved access for many aspects of eye care delivery.

Since the risk of transmission is still a possibility, if you think you might have COVID-19, even if asymptomatic, please don’t visit your eye care professional’s office until the infection has passed.

As mentioned, we don’t have the full picture of transmission to and from the eye, but we know there is likely some risk. Performing an eye exam with testing and measurement requires us to have close physical contact with our patients.

You’ll continue to find many of us masked. We ask that our patients be properly masked as well. I spend half my day asking patients to wear their masks correctly by keeping them tightly over their noses and mouths.

Know that we have adopted an even higher level of sanitation in our offices by thoroughly cleaning our instruments and supplies in between patients. It was excellent before the pandemic, but even better now. We want to keep you safe, but we also ask that you keep us safe!



Photo Credit: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO

Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO

Optometrist, professor, and clinician

Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO, is professor of ophthalmology and director of optometry and vision rehabilitation services at the Emory University Eye Center in Atlanta. She has been a practicing optometrist for over 35 years. Believing that strategic public health approaches to address visual impairment and loss are desperately needed, Primo completed her MPH degree to help combat this problem. Her goal is to increase access to primary eye care services, especially in underserved communities, to reduce the burden of preventable vision loss and to improve the quality of life for those who may have lost vision.

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