Coronavirus and your eyes

COVID-19 can cause a range of symptoms, including severe lung illness. Those who have COVID-19 may show symptoms up to 14 days after exposure. Some develop pneumonia from the illness and other symptoms can include shortness of breath, cough, and fever.

How Are Your Eyes Affected by Coronavirus?

One of the main things to understand about coronavirus is that it can spread through your eyes, just as it can through the nose and mouth. If someone is near you who has coronavirus and he or she sneezes, coughs, or talks, tiny particles can spray from their nose or mouth onto your face. While you are more likely to breathe in the droplets from your nose or mouth, the droplets can also get into your body through the eyes. You can even be infected with the virus by touching your eyes after you touch something that has the virus on it and then not wash your hands properly.

One of the symptoms of coronavirus, although very rare, is pink eye infection. If you do come down with pink eye, you should not panic and automatically assume you have coronavirus. Instead, call your optometrist or ophthalmologist and let him or her know and then follow the instructions given to you for care. Bacteria or another virus can also cause pink eye. It is easily spread if someone touches that runny or sticky discharge from their eyes or touches objects that are also contaminated from the discharge.

Getting Eye Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic

To keep everyone safe, many doctors, including ophthalmologists, are being urged to not to see patients during the pandemic unless it is for emergency or urgent care. This is important in order to limit contact between patients and doctors and to help reduce the spread of the virus. Everyone also needs to conserve important medical supplies, such as face shields and masks, so they can be used in hospitals where they are needed more than ever right now. It is possible that you may find that routine visits are rescheduled. Procedures and eye surgeries that are not considered emergencies may also be postponed.

When to Call Your Ophthalmologist

Even during this health crisis, you still may need treatment for your eye. There are some situations where you should call your ophthalmologist in order to get treatment to prevent current eye conditions from getting worse. If you have diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration and get regular eye injections, it is still going to be important to get these injections. If you notice flashes in vision, new floaters, or changes in vision, or if you have eye pain, nausea, vomiting, red-eye, or suddenly lose vision, you need to call your doctor. These symptoms may constitute an eye emergency.

What to Expect When You Visit Your Eye Doctor

Visits to the doctor, whether it is for an emergency or regular eye care if that is happening for you, will look a little bit different in order to keep everyone involved safe and healthy.

You may be asked to wait outside in the car instead of the waiting room. This protects you, as well as office staff and other patients, from exposure to the virus in a normally otherwise crowded waiting area. The office may be restricting the number of people that are allowed to enter. If you do not need to bring someone with you to assist you then you shouldn’t bring anyone to your appointment. If you do need someone to help you then this should be allowed, along with parents accompanying children. When examining you, your eye doctor might use a plastic shield on the slit-lamp machine that is used when he or she looks into your eyes. He or she may wear a mask and have a plastic shield over the eyes for their safety. You may be asked to wear a mask during the appointment. Your eye doctor may also want you to wait to talk until after the exam is done. Then he or she will be able to answer your questions while maintaining a safe distance from you. Depending on what is bringing you to the eye doctor, it is possible that your eye doctor may suggest a virtual visit or telemedicine with care given to you over video chat or the computer.

You will be asked to follow some precautions when you come into the office. If you have a fever, cough, or have been in close contact with someone with symptoms or someone that has tested positive, you need to call ahead of time and let your doctor know. You may be asked to stay home unless your visit is an absolute emergency. If you need to sneeze or cough during the exam, be sure to move away from the eye equipment. Cough or sneeze into your arm or use a tissue to cover your face. Wash your hands right away.

Protecting Your Eyes during the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is even more important to protect your eyes during this time. Not only do you need to keep washing your hands and cover your mouth and nose while out of your home but also you should be guarding your eyes to help slow the spread. There are many ways to keep your eyes safe during this time.

Switch to glasses if you wear contacts; if you wear contacts, you are going to be touching your eyes more than someone else. You should consider wearing your glasses instead, especially if you notice that you tend to touch your eyes more when you have your contacts in. When you substitute your glasses for your contacts, it also gives you a barrier and can serve as a reminder to not touch your eyes. If you prefer to wear your contacts, then make sure you are cleaning and disinfecting them just how your eye doctor recommends. Absolutely be sure to wash your hands before putting them in and taking them out.

Glasses can provide another layer of protection; while it’s not foolproof, sunglasses or just your corrective eyewear can help shield your eyes from respiratory droplets from an infected person. Note that droplets can still reach the eyes from the tops and bottoms and the open sides. If you want better protection, then you will need to use safety goggles. They can be recommended if you must care for someone potentially exposed to the virus or someone that is confirmed to have it.

Stock up on your eye medications; if you are able to with your insurance, get more than one month of your necessary eye medicine, such as glaucoma drops. Some insurers do allow you to have a three-month supply in times of disasters, such as this. Ask your pharmacist if you are having trouble getting approval from the insurance company. If you are not able to get more than a month’s supply of your eye medicine, then ask for your refill as soon as you are due for one. You do not want to wait until the last minute to contact the pharmacy. This will allow you to not have any issues with the supply chain when it comes to getting your medicine.

Avoid touching and rubbing your eyes; You may be surprised how often you rub and touch your eyes throughout the day but you can lower your risk of infection by not doing this. If you do need to rub or itch your eye, use a tissue instead of your fingers. Dry eyes can lead to rubbing so speak with your eye doctor about the use of moisturizing drops. If you are touching your eyes, be sure to wash your hands first.

Using some common sense can help you stay healthy. Be sure to wash your hands a lot and follow the right contact lens hygiene practices.

If you need eye care or have questions about care, contact Florida Eye.