If we are infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, then we can contract COVID-19 the disease. For those of us in the optical industry, the question is whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect us through our eyes.

An AAO review of “ACE2 and TMPRSS2 are expressed on the human ocular surface, suggesting susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) states: “Preliminary results suggest that the eye is susceptible to infection to SARS-CoV-2, a very contagious coronavirus. To be clear, at this time, we still do not know if someone can become ill from exposure to SARS-CoV-2 to their eyes. However, we do know from other studies that SARS-CoV-2 can be present on the surface of the eye. Since the eye has direct communication to the nasal passages via the nasolacrimal duct, the virus has access to the respiratory system. These new findings add to the body of evidence that the eye can be a source of both transmission and infection in asymptomatic/symptomatic carriers. Therefore, eye protection that protects against droplets and aerosols is prudent, especially for eye doctors.”

Authors Christopher A Clark, OD, Ph.D., and Dean VanNasdale, OD, Ph.D. of “Coronavirus: Stay on the Alert” in Review of Optometry magazine state that optometrists are on the front lines of this pandemic as conjunctivitis is a symptom of the virus. They recommend following CDC guidelines and wearing goggles to protect the eyes in addition to a mask.

The AAO says that wearing glasses may add a layer of protection from catching the coronavirus by shielding the eyes from infected respiratory droplets. They caution that glasses and sunglasses do not provide 100 percent protection since the eye covering is not enclosed, and the openings on the side and top can still allow the virus to reach the eyes. They recommend that caregivers of the sick or potentially exposed wear safety goggles.

In their research article “Precaution and Prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 infection in the eye,” the authors Chen MJ, et al.; discuss rising concerns of ocular transmission with reported ophthalmologists and otolaryngologists deaths from COVID-19. They “…strongly suggest that personal protective equipment (PPE) should cover the mouth, nose and eyes of ophthalmologists, especially when conjunctivitis caused by SARS-CoV-2 is clinically indistinguishable from other viral follicular conjunctivitis.”

An unsung hero in this pandemic is Li Wenliang, MD, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China. He was the first to raise the alarm about this new illness. He alerted medical school classmates of seven patients with a SARS-like infection with conjunctival involvement. Wuhan police forced him to retract his statement  before he died of COVID-19.

Deborah Kotob
Pro to Pro Director
[email protected]