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Can contact lenses up your risk of contracting coronavirus?

COVID-19 and contact lenses: What you need to know
ABOVE: What you need to know about COVID-19 and contact lenses

Every day, scientists are learning more about the new coronavirus and how it spreads.

One thing is certain: the virus is transmitted through droplet transmission, and those droplets enter the body through a mucous membrane — like your eyes.

For this reason, many contact lens users have started wearing glasses instead for fear that contacts can increase the risk of catching COVID-19.

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However, according to the findings of a recent literature review, contact lenses are not cause for concern with regard to the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Contact lenses remain a perfectly acceptable form of vision correction during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as people practise good hand hygiene and follow appropriate wear-and-care directions,” said Dr. Lyndon Jones, director of the Centre for Ocular Research & Education at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

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Jones and four other prominent ocular scientists collaborated on the paper, analyzing more than 100 peer-reviewed studies.

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“There is absolutely no scientific evidence [to suggest] that people who wear contact lenses are more at risk of developing COVID-19,” Jones told Global News.

However, good hygiene is key to safe contact lens use — and this holds true during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.

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“You shouldn’t be touching your face with unwashed hands,” Jones said.

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“You should always make sure that you wash your hands with soap and water and drying them before you ever handle contact lenses or … before you even touch your face.”

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Dr. Michael Nelson, president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO), agrees.

“Wash your hands before you put your contact lenses in, always,” he said.

“Clean your contact lenses, clean your case, wear a daily disposable lens that you throw out regularly, and you should be safe.”

Glasses aren’t safer

There is also no scientific evidence to suggest that wearing glasses provides more protection from the virus.

In fact, Jones stresses the importance of regular cleanings for glasses, too.

“Because of course spectacle-wearers are touching the face when they put the frames on and take them off, it’s very important to regularly clean and dry them as well,” Jones said. “That’s not something typical [that] spectacle-wearers would consider.”
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Nelson says this is critical because the virus is able to live on plastic surfaces for two to three days.

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“If you’re wearing your glasses and you have the virus sitting on your glasses, it protected you then but as soon as you take your glasses off, the virus is on your hand and then you might touch your face, infecting yourself,” he said.

“Sometimes, wearing glasses might give someone a false sense of security.”

Only personal protective eyewear approved by the World Health Organization can be considered to protect you from the virus. This includes medical masks, goggles and face shields, and they’re only recommended for use in health-care settings.

What to do if you’re sick

According to the study, people who are sick should temporarily stop wearing contacts and use glasses instead.

“Once you return to full health and have spoken to an eye doctor, you can start again,” researchers said. “Make sure to use new contact lenses and a new lens case.”

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According to Jones, this is the advice for contact wearers typically — not just during the COVID-19 outbreak — because touching your eyes when you’re sick can lead to infection.

“Whether it be with COVID-19 or [another virus], a contact lens wearer who’s ill should not be wearing contacts at that time,” Jones said.
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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca