Renowned virologist and epidemiologist, Joseph Fair submitted that he believed he was exposed to the virus through his eyes, while on a flight. He got Covid-19 even though he wore his masks and gloves. He believed that he could have only got the virus through his eyes and that is some sort of proof that the eyes also need protection from the virus.
What to wear to protect your eyes during a pandemic?
It has been suggested that eyewear including goggles and face shields can offer more complete protection from the virus than covering the nose and mouth alone
While this is not a universal recommendation, some have advocated for it, claiming that it provides “perfect protection of the mucosal surfaces.” Medical eye PPE and protections may be optional for the public but are effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19.
Types of eye protection include but are not limited to:
- Goggles: Goggles that fit perfectly and come with an anti-fog coating are very effective in protecting the eyes from respiratory droplets, splashes, and sprays. A lot of goggles fit perfectly over prescription glasses. To get the best out of goggles, they must fit snugly from the corners of the eye across the brow.
- Face shields: Face shields are commonly used as alternative infection-control items. Unlike goggles, face shields protect other areas of the face and not just the eyes.
- Safety glasses: Safety glasses can provide impact protection but cannot render the same degree of protection from splashes and droplets that goggles provide. They should not be used for infection control purposes.
- Full-face respirators: Full-face respirators are designed for respiratory protection, but their design also provides very effective eye protection.
Why is eye protection equipment important?
There is increasing evidence that the virus that causes Covid-19 can be transmitted through the eyes, which means that people in high-risk categories should protect their eyes in addition to taking other precautionary measures. CDC has indicated that people in high-risk categories include older adults and people of any age group with underlying medical conditions. Frontline workers also belong to the high-risk category.
Eye protection equipment is also important as they protect people in areas with moderate or substantial community transmission. A study has shown that you are three times less likely to get Covid-19 if you protect your eyes while taking other precautionary measures. For people who work in places that constantly expose them to the public, it's also advised to wear them. In such situations, you need every form of protection you can get, and eye protection comes in handy.
Note that wearing goggles should not the only measure you take to fight against the virus: it should be done while always wearing your mask, washing your hands, observing social distancing, and any other measure necessary for the prevention of the spread of Covid-19.
What is the risk of Covid-19 transmission through the eyes?
Apart from Joseph Fair, the WHO also agrees that the conjunctiva of the eyes is a potential site of infection by Covid-19 droplets.
A study from The Lancet show that despite the use of triple-layered surgical masks, gloves and other protective equipment, there was still transmission of the virus among 19% of health workers. However, with the introduction of eye-protective face shields, there was no case of transmission reported.
The reason for this transmission might be due to the large surface area of the eyes and the periocular structures, which is estimated to be about twice the surface area of the nose and the mouth. The eyes are also connected to the nose and the mouth and so viral particles that enter through it can find their way into the respiratory system, the intestines and circulation.
Researchers have also observed that people have a higher chance of touching their faces and making contact with their eyes when there is no physical barrier to eye touching, and this can also contribute to the spread of the virus.
How to prevent Infection from Covid-19 through the eyes?
Covid-19 is mostly transmitted through the nose and the mouth, but it can also be transmitted through the eyes, according to experts. This means that in addition to social distancing, wearing of face masks, and handwashing, the use of eye protection like safety goggles can help reduce the spread of the virus.
Tom Costello an NBC News Correspondent stressed that goggles and face shields are most appropriate for health care workers, but if you are in a crowded environment, it may be a great idea. A study from India, though inconclusive, has suggested that protecting the eyes may make the transmission of Covid-19 about three times less likely. Another research showed that there was a significant reduction in the risk of transmission from 16% to 5.5% among individuals who used eye-protecting equipment such as goggles and face shields.
It is important to note that personal eyeglasses and contact lens are not considered eye protection by health experts. Goggles and face shields also do not offer total protection from the virus. Complete protection from Covid-19 is obtained by using goggles, face shields together with your face mask (ideally FFP2), and the observance of other precautionary measures.
You can't do too much when it comes to protecting yourself from Covid-19. We are still learning all we can about the virus and it is best to protect ourselves in every way possible. If there is some evidence that suggests that goggles can be a form of added protection against Covid-19, it is very advisable to wear them!