Can eyeglasses protect you from Covid-19? Study says it may lower risk but experts urge caution
But other experts think it's too early to draw conclusions or make behavioral changes and that we need more data
Do eyeglasses protect users from Covid-19? The question has emerged after scientists from China observed a lower infection rate among people who wore glasses for more than eight hours a day. However, other experts have warned that its too early to draw conclusions.
The Chinese researchers studied 276 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Hubei's Suizhou. Of them, only about 6% wore glasses to correct short-sightedness or myopia -- lower than 31.5% of the population estimated to have myopia in Hubei, Dr Yiping Wei from the First Affiliated Hospital of Gannan Medical University, and his colleagues wrote in their study.
Based on their observation, the researchers think that using eyeglasses is linked with a lower risk of developing Covid-19. "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," they said.
But other experts think its too early to draw conclusions or make behavioral changes. "The authors conclude that wearing eyeglasses more than eight hours per day may be protective against SARS-CoV-2 infection," Dr Lisa L Maragakis from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote in an accompanying editorial. The researchers believe that eyeglasses could reduce the number of times people touch their eyes.
She also wrote that the findings might tempt us into thinking that wearing eyeglasses, goggles or a face shield in public would protect us from Covid-19. But we need to be cautious as the study is only observational and does not prove a link, she added.
Another expert also agreed. "This is a fascinating observation, but as with all single studies, the results must be treated with caution," Dr Simon Kolstoe from the University of Portsmouth, wrote in The Conversation. He added that eye protection is a part of personal protective equipment (PPE), but the magnitude of difference reported by this study raises suspicion. "This is not to say that the results may not be real, but rather that we shouldn’t start advising large-scale behavioral changes (such as wearing goggles alongside our face masks) until they have been independently confirmed."
More studies are needed
Though eyeglasses might not be as effective as goggles or a face shield, they might provide a partial barrier by reducing the entry of virus particles, akin to face masks. "This is one potential explanation for why the authors saw fewer wearers of eyeglasses among the hospitalized patients with Covid-19," Dr Maragakis said.
The new coronavirus could also enter the body when contaminated hands touch the face -- one reason why healthcare workers wear goggles, face masks and protective clothing. It is also why experts urge people to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds. "It, therefore, makes sense that covering our eyes with glasses may offer extra protection, both from the virus that may be carried in other people’s breath, but also in preventing wearers from touching their eyes," Dr Kolstoe wrote.
The study by Dr Wei and his colleagues suffer from some limitations, including its small sample size. Further studies, according to Dr Maragakis, should dig further into the observed link between eyeglasses and Covid-19 and if they offer extra benefits, in addition to face masks and physical distancing.