The Coronavirus & Its Impact On The Eyes: Be Alert, Not Alarmed

25 FEB 2020

Eye health

In the middle of a vacant oval, a person is wearing a surgical mask, jogging. At the airport, a security guard is wearing a mask, black around the mouth and nose from having it on continuously for the week. A guy at the shops wears a bag over his head to try to protect himself from the coronavirus (COVID-19) whilst another person wears grapefruit rind for a mask.

Because of some of the messaging around the coronavirus, people are fearful and will go to extreme lengths to fight this disease.

There is a lot of fear about the coronavirus and fear acts as a core driver that fuels concern, misinformation and ultimately, panic.

How the Coronavirus may impact your eyes

One concern many people have is whether you can contract coronavirus through your eyes.

This discussion emanates from a Peking respiratory physician who believed he may have contracted the virus because he wasn’t wearing sufficient eye protection while treating patients.

Although he was vigilant and wore an N95 mask, he said he developed conjunctivitis, then fevers, and felt this was because he wasn’t wearing protective glasses.

Medical officials say that whilst this is possible, it is very unlikely the virus entered his body through his eyes.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology there are “anecdotal reports” suggesting that “the virus can cause conjunctivitis and possibly be transmitted by aerosol contact with conjunctiva”.

It’s “plausible but unlikely” that the disease could spread this way says Dr. Stephen Thomas, Chief of Infectious Diseases at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

How the Coronavirus spreads

The coronavirus spreads from person-to-person through airborne “respiratory droplets,” via the mouth or nose and enters the respiratory system much like the flu virus.

The surgical mask people wear provides some protection, but it should only be worn for 30 minutes to two hours at the most. The longer you wear a mask, the less effective it becomes and as soon as it’s wet from your breath it needs to be thrown away and replaced.

The coronavirus virus is spreading quickly. As of 24 February, 2,500 people had died from the virus out of a reported 79,000 confirmed cases in more than 30 countries and territories. In Australia, 22 people had tested positive.

Although the risk of a coronavirus infected patient presenting to an optometry practice in Australia is extremely low, optometrists will continue to routinely ask patients before their appointment and on arrival at the practice if they have returned from China in the previous couple of weeks.

The discussion around protecting yourself from the coronavirus is important because it causes people to be more vigilant about protecting themselves from potentially life-threatening viruses.

Don’t be alarmed, simply apply best hygiene practices

Whilst it’s good to be mindful of the coronavirus, it’s important not to be alarmed.

The things people are doing to protect themselves from the disease are the very things you’d do against the flu (outside of getting the flu shot): wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds, use hand sanitiser, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed fingers and, if you’re sick, stay home.

The seasonal flu is of greater concern to health authorities which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates has resulted in up to 61,000 deaths from between nine million to 45 million cases each year for the past 10 years.

If you are concerned about your eye health, contact your local Eyecare Plus optometrist to book an appointment.

Continue reading

Prev Return to Stories

Prev Return to Stories