At the time of writing, coronavirus cases in Australia are just shy of 7000 with coronavirus-related deaths sitting just under 100. Though the terms ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ are often used interchangeably, coronavirus refers to the strain of virus itself, now named SARS-CoV-2, while COVID-19 is the name given to the respiratory disease caused by this novel coronavirus strain.
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the world have caused an unprecedented reaction – shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, faces half covered by masks, travelers stranded overseas, and many businesses closed down. Among these businesses affected by the response to COVID-19 in Australia are eyecare practices.
Coronavirus and Your Eyes
While there have been reports of ocular symptoms in patients with COVID-19, the virus does not pose a real threat to vision or eye health. The effects of COVID-19 may infrequently present as viral conjunctivitis in both eyes, and is considered to be self-resolving without treatment. Virus transmission via discharge from an eye with COVID-19 conjunctivitis is currently suspected but not yet proven to be a significant route of infection due to low study numbers. Patients with conjunctivitis as a result of COVID-19 may experience:
- Red, irritated eyes
- A foreign body sensation in the eye
- Watery discharge/tearing
Coronavirus and Eye Hygiene
It is thought that COVID-19 can be caught by touching a surface contaminated with coronavirus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, a process called self-inoculation. In general, good eye hygiene practice dictates that you shouldn’t be routinely rubbing or touching your eyes, let alone with unwashed hands that may have come into contact with a coronavirus-covered object. But this is easier said than done and for some people, such as those who take medicated eye drops or use contact lenses, frequently touching their eyes is a necessity. In these cases, hand washing is your best protection for good eye hygiene.
To reduce your risk of catching COVID-19, wash your hands with soap and water, ensuring you lather over all parts of your hands – this includes:
- your fingertips
- under your fingernails
- the webs between your fingers
- the backs of your hands
- your palms
- your thumbs
Ensure that you thoroughly rinse off all soap and dry your hands before handling your contacts or touching the surface of your eye as this could sting if you don’t! Alcohol-based hand rubs are suitable in the absence of soap and water if the hands are not visibly soiled but are not recommended if you are handling contact lenses. The good news is that there is no evidence that wearing contacts increases your risk of contracting COVID-19.
Other Eye Health Tips
As coronavirus-related restrictions cautiously lift across Victoria and Australia, eyecare clinics will slowly begin to return to full operation. In the meantime, here are some tips to look after your eyes while we wait for COVID-19 cases to drop further.
- Comply strictly with general contact lens hygiene rules, including prescribed wear schedules and cleaning routines
- Wear appropriate eye protection when doing high-risk activities, including gardening and metalwork, to reduce risk of eye injury
- Don’t delay seeking attention if you do experience any eye problems, such as unusual pain or loss of vision, but be mindful of the coronavirus risk every time you step out of the house and take the necessary precautions. Your eyecare practitioner may also have in place COVID-19 screening procedures if you visit the clinic
- Take care of your glasses. Due to the impact of coronavirus across workplaces, there may be a delay in replacing your glasses if they are misplaced or broken
- Don’t neglect your prescribed eye drop medications. If appropriate, your eye care practitioner may be able to write you script repeats and post or email it to your pharmacy if coronavirus-related risks make it impractical for you to visit the clinic in person. If you have contracted COVID-19 it is still likely to be necessary to continue with your medicated eye drops, but check with your doctor first
- Give your eyes a break from the screen. COVID-19 has driven many of us indoors where we spend a lot more time on digital screens. Take regular breaks by letting your eyes relax into the distance, and use lubricant eye drops if they feel tired or dry
The coronavirus pandemic has truly turned the world upside down. As we wait for commercial planes to take to the skies and international borders to reopen, keeping your eyes and vision healthy during this age of COVID-19 means you’ll be ready to see the sights straight away when they do.
For more information on how to keep your eyes from this COVID-19 pandemic time, please do call us at 1300 297 583 for free.