Coronavirus 3 min read

Can you contract coronavirus through your eyes?

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the primary method of coronavirus spread is through respiratory droplets of saliva or nasal discharge expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets are most frequently transferred when you are less than 2 metres away from the person affected. If these droplets are breathed in and enter the lungs, COVID-19 infection can occur.

The WHO also stresses the importance of hand-washing and not touching your face, given the possible transmission of viruses from the hands to the mouth, noses or eyes.

When a contaminated surface, such as unwashed hand, comes into contact with the eye, coronaviruses can transfer onto the surface of the eye. Here, it’s believed the virus can enter the body through the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the front of the eye and the inner eyelids.

Virus transmission through the eyes may not be this coronavirus’ primary method of spread, but you should be mindful of even small methods of spread.

Evidence of eye transmission

The medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology published a small study in March 2020 that suggested eye transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Focused on 38 COVID-19 patients in China, the study showed the novel coronavirus to have traits in common with the SARS virus, another member of the coronavirus family. An increased risk of contracting the virus without proper eye protection was one of these shared traits. Hence, eye transmission of the COVID-19 virus was strongly suspected.

Another study, also published in March 2020 by the journal Ophthalmology, found encouraging news regarding optical spread. Researchers in Singapore found no evidence of the coronavirus in the tear samples of 17 COVID-19 patients.

This may be a step in the right direction, but the group continues to encourage eye protection, in addition to minding hand, nose and mouth protection. Everything works together to slow the spread of this coronavirus.

Increasing evidence also suggests that 1-3% of COVID-19 patients can present conjunctivitis.

Close up of an eye with conjunctivitis symptoms

How to slow the spread of coronavirus

Based on what we currently know about the novel coronavirus, here are some steps you can take to slow the spread where you live:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often, with soap and water.
  • An alcohol-based sanitiser may be used as a substitute, but soap and water are preferable.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
  • Do not come into physical contact with people who are infected or may be infected with the virus, if possible.
  • When in public, try to maintain a distance of 2 metres or further from other people.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and dispose of the tissue into a covered bin. If you don’t have a tissue, use the inside of your bent elbow to avoid sending droplets into the air.
Two sets off feat facing each other socially distanced

Glasses may offer some protection

Even the simple act of wearing everyday eyeglasses or sunglasses offers some protection from airborne viruses, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, germs can still enter through the exposed sides of the frames.

In addition to the small amount of protection offered by glasses, eyeglass-wearers tend to touch their eyes far less frequently.

Face masks reduce risk but don’t protect your eyes

Many health care professionals are also recommending the use of non-medical face masks for use in daily activities. While masks were previously discouraged for seemingly healthy people, they are now being encouraged due to the potential asymptomatic spread of this coronavirus.

However, they are requesting medical-grade masks be conserved for health care workers. 

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