If you wear contact lens, you may want to consider switching to glasses, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
“We are telling people to take it easy on wearing contact lens right now,” says Thomas Steinemann, MD, an AAO spokesperson and professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Centre.
The statement, however, did not reference any scientific evidence for the claims and international optometrist organisations, including Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia and British Contact Lens Association, aren't so sure about this advice. So, what are they saying exactly?
Improper contact lens usage can cause eye issues
The AAO’s recommendation is based in part on real-world usage, as many wearers of contact lens can be lax when it comes to wearing them, which can cause eye issues.
“It’s easy to forget, we all get busy, we all want to save time, we cut corners, and sometimes those decisions are not good for the health of your eyes,” says Steinemann, adding that in his practice, he sees patients all the time who have developed issues because of incorrect contact-lens usage.
We are all guilty of falling asleep with our contacts in, failing to regularly disinfect our lens, and forgetting to wash our hands before we put them in and take them out. Given how much stress we are under, proper contact lens usage is one more thing to remember, one more thing to slip up on, and something that comes with the risk of developing a medical issue.
Glasses offer a simpler option, lessening the risk of burdening an already strained healthcare system.
Saying that, the Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia said there was no evidence of coronavirus being passed through contact lenses. That doesn't mean that it's not possible but in the absence of proof, it's really just a rumour.
"There’s currently no evidence to suggest an increased risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19, through contact lens (CL) wear," it said in a statement on the matter.
"Contact lenses, solutions and eye drops (where applicable) should be used, worn and replaced as prescribed by your eye care practitioner."
Eye issues in COVID-19 patients
There is also evidence that a very small percentage of COVID-19 patients, between 1-3%, develop conjunctivitis, commonly called pink eye, and that in these patients, the virus can be found in secretions from the eyes. This is still an area of ongoing research, as Steinemann points out, saying that “We don’t know much about COVID-19’s behaviour in the eye.”
Scientists still don’t know when COVID-19-related conjunctivitis develops in relation to other symptoms, when the virus starts appearing in eye secretions or how much of a risk this would poses in terms of transmission, but this is still a factor to consider. Although contact lens themselves will not give you COVID-19, they could play a part in transmission.
“Contact lens could act as a vector to carry the virus,” Steinemann says. Putting contacts and taking them out involves touching your eyes with your fingers, which risks spreading the virus.
If you do wear contact lens, exercise proper usage
If you choose to wear contact lens, it’s doubly important to follow all of the guidelines. This includes washing your hands before and after handling contact lens, disinfecting contact lens on a regular schedule, discontinuing usage if you get sick and throwing out any lens which have expired.
“Protect your eyes, protect your health, and protect the health of those around you,” Steinemann says.
The Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia adds if you are feeling unwell, it's a good idea to swap over to glasses until you recover.
"Practitioners have long advised against the wear of contact lenses if a wearer is unwell. This applies in particular to any signs or symptoms of colds and flu, respiratory tract infections, red sore eyes, discharge and so on," it said in its statement.
"Basically, if someone is feeling unwell they should terminate contact lens wear."
While the verdict isn't clear cut, it's worthwhile taking the advice into consideration when it's relevant to you.
Additional reporting by Lifehacker Australia has been included.