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Could wearing glasses lower the risk of COVID-19?

Close-up of a woman wearing glasses and a face mask.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

People who wear eyeglasses may be at lower risk for catching COVID-19 than those who don't wear glasses, early research from China suggests.

The study researchers analyzed information from 276 patients at a hospital in China's Hubei province and found that only about 6% said they wore glasses for more than 8 hours a day, all of whom had myopia, or nearsightedness. That's much lower than the estimated rate of myopia in Hubei from previous research, which was 31.5%.

The new study, published Wednesday (Sept. 16) in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, "is provocative and raises the possibility that use of eye protection by the general public might offer some degree of protection from COVID-19," Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. 

However, Maragakis cautions that it's much too early to recommend that everyone don eyeglasses, goggles or face shields in public, in addition to already wearing face masks, to protect against COVID-19. The new study has a number of limitations — for starters, the study was relatively small and included patients at a single hospital. Importantly, the study found only an association and cannot prove a "cause-effect" relationship between wearing glasses and being protected from COVID-19, Maragakis said.

Maragakis called for more studies to confirm the findings and to determine "whether there is any incremental benefit to wearing eyeglasses or other forms of eye protection in public settings, in addition to wearing a mask and physical distancing, to reduce the risk of acquiring [COVID-19]."

Related: 14 coronavirus myths busted by science

Eye protection 

Although it's recommended that health care workers wear face shields or goggles, along with face masks, to lower the risk of catching COVID-19, public health guidelines generally don't promote the use of eye protection for the public; they instead stress the importance of masks, physical distancing and hand washing. (The CDC does not recommend face shields as a substitute for face masks.)

The study authors, from Suizhou Zengdu Hospital in Suizhou, China, decided to look into the link between eyeglasses and COVID-19 prevention after they noticed that few patients with COVID-19 at their hospital wore glasses. 

They enrolled the 276 patients in their study between Jan. 27 and March 13, 2020. All participants were asked if they wore eyeglasses, how long they wore glasses during the day and why they needed glasses.

Overall, 30 participants, or about 11%, said they wore glasses, but only 16 participants, or 5.8%, wore glasses for more than 8 hours a day and that was for myopia. (The other 14 participants wore reading glasses.)

To compare this with the general population, the researcher drew on a study conducted in 1985 among students in Hubei province, which showed that about one-third had myopia, nearly all of whom wore glasses. 

However, Maragakis noted that this comparison group is a limitation of the study because the research took place "decades earlier" and wasn't specific to Suizhou.

But in general, myopia is a common condition, estimated to affect 27% of the world's population in 2010, with the highest prevalence in East Asia, according to the World Health Organization.

None of the participants in the study wore contact lenses, so whether wearing contact lenses affects the risk of COVID-19 still needs to be studied, the authors said.

The researchers did not examine why glasses may reduce the risk of COVID-19, but they hypothesize that wearing glasses discourages people from touching their eyes, which would reduce the chances that people transfer virus from their hands to their eyes. It's known that eye cells have receptors that allow SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to enter the body; and the virus has been detected in the eyes of COVID-19 patients.

Maragakis added that eyeglasses may also "serve as a partial barrier that reduces the inoculum [amount] of virus in a manner similar to what has been observed for cloth masks."

"These findings suggest that the eye may be an important infection route for COVID-19,

and more attention should be paid to preventive measures such as frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes," the study authors concluded.

Still, in addition to further studies to confirm the findings, researchers also need to consider possible unintended consequences of a general recommendation to wear eye protection in public. People who aren't accustomed to wearing glasses or goggles might actually touch their face more often when removing, replacing or adjusting the eyewear, Maragakis said.

Originally published on Live Science.  

  • Veena Vyas
    admin said:
    It's still too early to recommend that everyone don eyeglasses, goggles or face shields in public to protect against COVID-19.

    Could wearing glasses lower the risk of COVID-19? : Read more
    I had been wearing the glasses when I go out, even before this so called research. And what is with the western science that has dispute even a small thing like wearing glasses, sheer stupidity. The virus load is through eyes, nose and mouth, and it does not take rocket science just plain common sense to protect all the 3. Just wear the damn darn glasses!!!
    Reply
  • Veena Vyas
    Veena Vyas said:
    I had been wearing the glasses when I go out, even before this so called research. And what is with the western science that has dispute even a small thing like wearing glasses, sheer stupidity. The virus load is through eyes, nose and mouth, and it does not take rocket science just plain common sense to protect all the 3. Just wear the damn darn glasses!!!
    Reply
  • Veena Vyas
    I also keep telling even the poor people to wear the eye glasses when they go out!
    Veena Vyas said:
    I also keep telling even the poor people to wear the eye glasses when they go out!
    Reply
  • Gaia
    admin said:
    It's still too early to recommend that everyone don eyeglasses, goggles or face shields in public to protect against COVID-19.

    Could wearing glasses lower the risk of COVID-19? : Read more
    admin said:
    It's still too early to recommend that everyone don eyeglasses, goggles or face shields in public to protect against COVID-19.

    Could wearing glasses lower the risk of COVID-19? : Read more
    I totally disagrre. This is another way of glasses manufactuers make money during the pandemia.
    Reply
  • Siphophorae
    Could go either way for me. Making people wear glasses and a mask seems a tad harsh with no evidence behind it, but you might want to be on the safe side.
    Reply
  • Veena Vyas
    I will always tell people to be aware and take plenty of precautions, this is a pandemic if anyone believes it or not. Lots of Doctors of whom I know personally told me or told my friends how they are dealing with it on a daily basis, and they write the death reports every day. I feel safe wearing the glasses and 2 masks, in the flight I wore the face shield. I follow all the guidelines outside/inside the home, and many more at home. If the 2nd person is safe, I feel safe, as the infection is very transitive ie it keeps spreading and eventually might come somewhere near me, hence the precautions for myself and for others. In a HOT world, the glasses is double edged: it protects us from the virus and also shield the eyes from the HOT Sun. So why not? I tell the poor because they go out physically and have to work physically ie they are exposed to the elements and have to touch, that is the least I can do for them.
    Reply
  • Bob Ebitz
    Veena Vyas said:
    I also keep telling even the poor people to wear the eye glasses when they go out!

    I also keep telling even the poor people to wear the eye glasses when they go out!

    I agree,

    So still, little is know about when, how and why we ended up with covid-19.

    Things are always in the air around us, everyone is up about breathing in germs and transferring germs by picking them up by touch. No one states a thing about when they land on your drink containers then you touch them or drink them, think people, think.

    Always completely cover your drink container, I use the Bug Not’s, no holes, a total portable, reusable, washable type, think.
    Reply
  • Edd
    Sorry, I don't trust ANYTHING, that comes out of China.
    Reply
  • Bob Ebitz
    Edd said:
    Sorry, I don't trust ANYTHING, that comes out of China.
    The Bug Not drink protector is made at Pittsburgh Pa USA, check out the web site.
    WWW.BUGNOT.US
    Reply
  • Edward
    Edd said:
    Sorry, I don't trust ANYTHING, that comes out of China.
    And you don't buy anything made in China do you? I find that it can't be avoided try as I might. Our merchants buy the cheapest stuff and then stick it to us. And that cheapest stuff comes from China and other far eastern countries. No jobs for Canadians then. I tried buying a leather belt made in Canada and it was nearly impossible. Finally came across a shoe maker/repairer in a mall who made some belts on the side. Not cheap though, but made well and does not fall apart in 2 months, which means it is actually less expensive in the longer run.
    Reply