What is coronavirus?
There are many types of viruses called coronaviruses, and some of them can make you sick. The new type we are hearing about now as part of this pandemic is called COVID-19. This virus causes mild to severe lung illness.
People who are exposed to coronavirus may show symptoms anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure. Those symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people can develop pneumonia and become seriously ill or die from coronavirus complications.
How can coronavirus affect your eyes?
The first thing to understand is that coronavirus can spread through the eyes — just as it does through the mouth or nose.
When someone who has coronavirus coughs, sneezes, or talks, virus particles can spray from their mouth or nose onto your face. You are likely to breathe these tiny droplets in through your mouth or nose. But the droplets can also enter your body through your eyes. You can also become infected by touching your eyes after touching something that has the virus on it.
It might be possible for coronavirus to cause a pink eye infection (conjunctivitis), but this is extremely rare. If you have pink eye, don’t panic. Simply call your ophthalmologist to let them know and follow their instructions for care. Keep in mind that whether pink eye is caused by a virus or bacteria, it can spread if someone touches that sticky or runny discharge from the eyes, or touches objects contaminated by the discharge.
Call your ophthalmologist for guidance in the following situations:
- You have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy and get regular eye injections
- You notice changes in your vision (like blurry, wavy or blank spots in your field of vision)
- You notice a lot of new floaters or flashes in your vision
- You suddenly lose some vision
- You have eye pain, headache, red eye, nausea and vomiting
Protecting your eyes and health
Guarding your eyes — as well as your hands, nose, and mouth — can slow the spread of coronavirus. Here are some ways you can keep your eyes safe and healthy during this coronavirus outbreak.
- If you wear contact lenses, try switching to glasses for a while. Contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the average person. Consider wearing glasses more often, especially if you tend to touch your eyes a lot when your contacts are in. Substituting glasses for lenses can reduce eye irritation, and they may be a barrier that reminds you not to touch your eye. If you must wear contacts, be sure to clean and disinfect them exactly as your eye doctor recommends.
- Wearing glasses may add a layer of protection. Corrective eyeglasses or sunglasses can shield your eyes from infected respiratory droplets. But keep in mind that they don’t provide 100% security. The virus can still reach your eyes from the open sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses. For better protection, you must use safety goggles if you’re caring for a sick patient or potentially exposed person.
- Stock up on eye medicine prescriptions if you can. If your insurance allows you to get more than one month of necessary eye medicine (like glaucoma drops), you should. Some insurers will approve a 3-month supply of medication in times of natural disaster. Ask your pharmacist or ophthalmologist for help if you have trouble getting approval from your insurance company. As always, request a refill as soon as you are due. Don’t wait until the last minute to contact your pharmacy.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes. It can be hard to break this natural habit, but doing so will lower your risk of infection. If you feel an urge to itch or rub your eye or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers. Dry eyes can lead to more rubbing, so consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine. If you must touch your eyes for any reason — even to administer eye medicine — wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Then wash them again after touching your eyes.
- Use common sense to stay healthy. Wash your hands a lot. Follow good contact lens hygiene. And avoid touching or rubbing your nose, mouth and eyes.