Keep Eye-Safe During the Pandemic

16 June 2020

By Mr Shafiq Rehman, Optegra Eye Hospital Yorkshire

Coronavirus is impacting every aspect of our lives – from work to leisure to health. And while we battle this virus, we need to continue to care for all aspects of our general health.

Most people regard eyesight as the most precious of the senses, and here, local surgeon Mr Shafiq Rehman, helps us debunk some myths around eyes and Covid-19 as well as offering tips on how to maintain excellent eye health during the pandemic.

Should I have my routine eye test?

At the moment, the College of Optometrists recommends routine scheduled eye tests should be postponed. This is in line with public health advice to avoid social contact where possible. However, there are plans in place for a restart later in June.

Having said that, there are certain symptoms which should not be ignored, and so you should go to your optometrist if you have any of the following:

Red eye, contact lens discomfort, foreign bodies, recent change or loss of vision, recent onset of eye pain or double vision, sudden onset of flashes/floaters/dark shadows in your vision or sudden onset of distorted wavy lines.

Also if you are a key worker struggling to perform your job effectively because of difficulties with vision.

Phone your local optometrist first who may see you that day and will certainly be able to advise.

Is conjunctivitis associated with coronavirus?

Covid-19 can cause conjunctivitis and rarely some mild retinal changes but there is no evidence to support any impact on vision. Despite the well publicised round trip to Barnard Castle by the PM’s special adviser!

It can cause a red, watery eye (conjunctivitis) which resolves without any treatment required.

In a large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers documented “conjunctival congestion” in 9 of 1,099 patients (0.8%) with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 from 30 hospitals across China.

The British Emergency Eye Care Society is aware that covid-19 patients may develop a red, watery eye during their illness. The condition will resolve without eye drops and therefore they advise not to go to your eye department.

However, the vast majority of conjunctivitis cases occurs due to other much more commonly circulating viruses such as Adenovirus (common cold virus). Conjunctivitis can also occur with hay fever especially at this time of year. It is unlikely that a person would present with viral conjunctivitis secondary to COVID-19 without other symptoms of fever and/or continuous cough and/or loss of, or change in taste or smell.

Can you catch coronavirus through your eyes?

Though there are reports of the SAR-CoV-2 virus being detectable by swab testing for virus RNA from the eyes of affected patients, there no confirmed reports of transmission occurring purely from the eyes.

It is however possible that infected patients will for a time shed virus from their tears and so good personal hygiene principles should apply – which in essence means safe distancing and frequent hand washing remain the cornerstone of means of reducing the ‘R’ number.

How to keep safe in glasses and contact lenses

We have all heard the advice to avoid touching our faces – but that is practically impossible for the many of us who wear spectacles or contact lenses.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that wearing contact lesnes would increase a person’s chance of contracting Covid-19.

To help maintain healthy contact lens use, all wearers should follow care instructions as advised by their eye care professional.

For example, if contacts are worn wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, before and after applying or handling your contact lenses, cases or solution bottles.

For those who prefer spectacles, again keep your hands as clean as possible and wipe your frames regularly with warm soap and water. Also try to reduce the number of times you touch your frames.

Should you need your glasses replaced, for example, if they have been lost or broken, most optometrists are able to provide an emergency service for this. It is usually by appointment.

I am keen to have laser eye surgery, is it safe to do so now?

Yes. Optegra has just re-opened its doors to offer all types of vision correction surgery. And we have taken extensive additional precautions to help keep our patients and indeed our staff as safe as possible. We have taken the lead in setting up screening consultations which can be done on the telephone or online virtual video consultations in the first instance. All our measures are designed to make our services accessible and by reducing the amount of time our patients spend in the hospital we are doing our bit to help the national effort to curb this pandemic.

When patients do visit they will have a temperature check on arrival, be encouraged to use alcohol based hand sanitisers and will be offered a fluid-resistant face mask for their protection during the course of their visit. We will adhere to social distancing and all clinical staff will wear full PPE. We are also limiting the number of patients at any one time.

We can also assure our patients that our standard of care in this regard will be robust and identical across all of our clinics and hospitals.

What can you do at home to treat an eye infection?

You can buy over-the-counter eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis (which commonly causes red, gritty, sticky eyes) and use as directed.

Sticky eyes can be cleaned with commercially available eyelid wipes, or if not available, with freshly boiled and cooled tap water and a clean cotton pad, a different one for each eye.

If you develop an eye infection like conjunctivitis, avoid spreading it to others by washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your eyes and not sharing hand towels or face cloths with others.

If you are unwell, for example with cold or flu like symptoms, it is good practice to have a break from wearing your contact lenses. During the SAR-Cov-2 pandemic please also remember to get tested for the virus if you do develop the cough, temperature or other flu like symptoms.

 Make-up safety

As we have more time available, it is a good chance to step-up make-up hygiene. Ensure you thoroughly remove eye make-up at the end of each day, do not share make-up with others, and use this time to check through your products – if you have had them longer than the recommended ‘period after opening’ symbol on each product, discard as old make-up can increase risk of infection.

For more eye health advice visit Optegra.com

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