As public health officials work around the clock to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, everyone else is trying their best to up their personal hygiene. Washing your hands for 20 seconds and not touching your face are two of the strongest recommendations the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has to prevent getting sick whether from COVID-19 (the disease caused by coronavirus), cold, or flu. Once you’re actively trying not to touch your face, though, you’ll probably catch yourself scratching at your temple or rubbing your eyes around 400 times a day. One expert has a simple suggestion to cut down on the face-touching: swap out your contacts for glasses.
“When people are sick with cold or flu-like symptoms, it is generally recommended they stick to glasses over contact lenses,” says American Optometric Association (AOA) President Dr. Barbara Horn, O.D. “In addition to reducing the risk of spreading the virus by avoiding touching your eyes [or] face, it’s a good idea as illness can disrupt the body’s natural tear production and lead to dry eye. Without the necessary oils to protect and hydrate the eyes, trying to insert contact lenses can potentially further irritate the eyes or even damage them.” Horn also notes that it’s possible that coronavirus can cause extreme light sensitivity, irritation, redness in the conjunctiva, and watery discharge; if you do get sick, you’ll likely be more comfortable using your glasses, rather than contacts.
Coronavirus, like the cold or flu, spreads through contact with respiratory droplets; if you touch surfaces someone's coughed or sneezed on, then touch your eyes or mouth, the virus can potentially enter your system through these mucous membranes. That’s why not touching your face is the second line of defense against getting sick, after washing your hands. “The less you touch your eyes, the less chance there is for germs to be transferred,” Horn says.
If you’re not currently sick, wearing your glasses instead of your contacts helps you avoid the inevitable 2 p.m. dry eye rub-fest, reducing your risk of transferring those germs. You can also clean your glasses with disinfecting wipes throughout the day, whereas to thoroughly clean reusable contacts, you need at least six hours to let the hydrogen peroxide solution work its magic.
For now, continue to take hygiene precautions to keep yourself from getting sick, just as you would with any other illness. “Those who choose to wear contacts should make sure to clean them thoroughly or, if possible, switch to daily lenses to avoid infection,” says Horn. “Even taking contacts out to let the eyes recuperate during the day can be beneficial.”
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. Barbara Horn, O.D., American Optometric Association (AOA) President