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Most Experts Don't Think Eyeglasses Will Protect You From COVID-19

man wearing eyeglasses and surgical face mask

Ayasanon Pongvit / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • In theory, eyeglasses may offer protection from COVID-19 by preventing the virus from getting into our eyes.
  • A new study claims glasses were linked to some protection, but experts question the study data and design.
  • To protect yourself, you're better off doing what we know works: social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing.

Prescription eyeglasses don’t exactly constitute effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for preventing COVID-19. But a recent study suggests that eyeglass wearers may be at a lower risk for COVID-19 infection.

In a September study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers examined people hospitalized in China for COVID-19. Fewer of these patients wore glasses for extended daily use compared to the general population.

Researchers believe the lower rate of COVID-19 in eyeglass wearers might be because lenses encourage less eye rubbing. If the virus lives on their hands, this could potentially serve as a barrier from COVID-19 infection through the eyes.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in December 2019, we observed that few patients with eyeglasses were admitted in the hospital ward,” the authors wrote. 

However, many scientists say these findings are too far of a stretch to draw conclusions from.

“Normal spectacle glasses do not offer enough protection as they do not fit the eye—there are gaps around the glasses that will not offer protection," Shahina Pardhan, PhD, director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute at ARU in the U.K., tells Verywell. Pardhan was not involved with the Chinese study. "Therefore, the eye is susceptible to droplets carrying the virus."

Researchers Find Correlation Between Not Wearing Glasses and COVID-19

Researchers built off of a March study that suggested SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could be transmitted through the eye.

They examined 276 people admitted to the hospital in China between late January and early March. Of those patients, 30 people wore eyeglasses. None of them wore contact lenses or had refractive surgery. This was noteworthy because wearing eyeglasses is so common among Chinese individuals of all ages. The prevalence of myopia—nearsightedness—is estimated to be above 80% in the country.

“According to available statistics, nearly 1% to 12% of patients with COVID-19 have ocular manifestations," the authors wrote. "SARS-CoV-2 was detected in tears or the conjunctival sacs of patients with COVID-19, and some ophthalmologists were reported to be infected during routine treatment."

What This Means For You

There's not enough evidence to show that eyeglasses offer any degree of protection from COVID-19. Instead, rely on proven safety precautions like social distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask.

Eyeglasses Won’t Protect You

In an editorial regarding the study, Lisa L. Maragakis, MD, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System in Maryland, said people shouldn’t believe wearing glasses caused fewer people to become infected. It’s an observational study and there could be an alternative explanation for the findings.

“We would be incorrect to conclude that wearing eyeglasses reduces a person’s susceptibility to COVID-19 or to recommend that people should begin wearing eye protection in public to prevent COVID-19 acquisition,” Maragakis wrote.

Because the study occurred early on in the pandemic, the data doesn’t reflect what could have happened later on when hand-washing or social distancing may have increased. This makes it difficult to discern if there’s any benefit to wearing eyeglasses on top of existing interventions to prevent virus transmission.

After examining the study with a colleague, Sergio Zaccaria Scalinci, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Bologna in Italy, agrees with Maragakis.

“It is important to emphasize that association does not imply causation," Scalinci tells Verywell. "In this study population, there could be multiple confounders that could explain this difference." 

The hospitalized patients were not compared with age-matched controls, he says. People who were hospitalized had a mean age of 51. Researchers compared their outcomes to older survey data from people ages 7 to 22 years old living in a different region of the country. “In our opinion, this can result in a significant difference,” Scalinci says.

The study didn't look at enough information on important factors like hand-washing or social distancing, Mark Willcox, PhD, a professor at the UNSW Sydney School of Optometry and Vision Science in Australia, tells Verywell.

“There is the potential that the finding was simply fortuitous and people wearing glasses may have had other differences from [a] ‘control’ population that were not measured in the study,” Wilcox says.

What We Know About Eye Safety

Still, Scalinci says he and his colleague both believe that eyeglasses can offer some degree of protection. This is because they prevent, to some extent, direct droplets from depositing onto the eye surface. In addition, they also decrease the likelihood that someone touches their eyes.

“It is difficult to conclude what degree of protection they provide among the general population,” he says.

There are other proven tactics you can employ to curb virus transmission.

“Physical distancing, wearing masks, and frequent hand-washing remain the methods confirmed by a significant number of epidemiological studies to be effective at limiting the development of COVID-19,” Lyndon Jones, PhD, professor and director of the Centre for Ocular Research & Education at the University of Waterloo in Canada, tells Verywell. “Advice that people should not touch their face with unwashed hands remains important.”

Jones notes that recent publications suggest that transmission via touch is significantly lower than aerosol or transmission via respiratory droplets.

“But the advice to frequently wash anything that may transfer the virus onto or near the face remains important,” he notes. “Thus, spectacle wearers should be advised to wash their spectacles frequently with warm, soapy water to prevent the potential transmission of the virus onto the face of hands.”

While Jones finds the results interesting, they “certainly do not confirm that people should begin wearing eye protection in public at this time or switch from other forms of vision correction out of safety concerns."

Thinking that eyeglasses offer meaningful protection from COVID-19 is “far from proven,” Jones says.

                                                                     

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  1. Zeng W, et al. Association of daily wear of eyeglasses with susceptibility to coronavirus disease 2019 infectionJAMA Ophthalmol. Sept. 16, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.3906

  2. Wu P, et al. Characteristics of ocular findings of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Hubei province, ChinaJAMA Ophthalmol. March 31, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.1291

  3. Maragakis LL. Eye Protection and the risk of coronavirus disease 2019: Does wearing eye protection mitigate risk in public, non–health care settings? JAMA Ophthalmol. Sept. 16, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.3909 

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