If you need to wear a type of vision correction to improve your eyesight, most people get instantly curious about one type in particular: contacts. The best contact lenses online (opens in new tab) come in different types, and are simple to use once you get the hang of caring for them and popping them in. But a question many people have is this: are contact lenses safe? These are medical devices, after all, and while they are fairly safe, that's only if you learn how to care for them properly, and what hygiene steps you need to take before putting them in.
Perhaps an even more pertinent question we should be asking right now is are contact lenses safe to wear during COVID? As we know, the coronavirus is spread through infected droplets, and if we have it on our hands then touch our eyes, that could lead to infection. Considering how we literally use our fingers to put contacts in, does this automatically mean that the use of this type of vision correction makes us more exposed to potential infection. Not exactly.
An estimated 45 million Americans wear contacts. What's even more surprising is the big upswing last year in the number of people switching from the best eyeglasses online (opens in new tab) to wearing contacts. Why? Because, as essential as face masks (opens in new tab) are to help slow the spread, people are understandably sick of foggy glasses (opens in new tab) caused by mask wearing.
Wearing contacts certainly solves that problem, but there’s concern amongst some that regularly touching their eyes to insert and remove contacts could be putting them at increased risk of infection. Let's now take a look at what the experts say about whether contact lenses are safe, and how you can use them safely.
Do contact lenses increase your risk of catching coronavirus?
The good news is that while the coronavirus does enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, infectious disease expert Dr Gregory Poland says (opens in new tab) that as long as wearers continue to practice good hygiene, contacts are safe to continue using during the pandemic.
"I don't think the issue is so much the lenses as it is hand hygiene before inserting or taking out the lenses. You certainly want to wash, and you don't want to use an alcohol-based hand rub because you'll feel it in your eye," Dr Poland told the Mayo Clinic. "But wash your hands well before inserting and taking them out." You should also learn how to clean contact lenses (opens in new tab), including the storage case.
If you’ve been confused up until now, it's not surprising. Last March, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggested that wearers should switch to glasses to minimize eye-hand contact. However, Dr David Meyer, a specialist at John A. Moran Eye Center, says (opens in new tab) there is no evidence to suggest that those who wear lenses touch their faces any more than those who wear spectacles.
Reassuringly, the CDC sings from the same song sheet, stating (opens in new tab) that there is no evidence that wearing this type of vision correction increases your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
How to wear contact lenses safely during COVID
According to the CDC guidelines (opens in new tab), hand washing is an ‘essential first step in the fight against eye infections and COVID-19 transmission.’ When using contacts, aim to wash your hands carefully and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, paying attention to the backs and fronts of your hands, as well as thumbs and in between fingers. Dry well with a clean paper towel afterward.
Proper hand washing is vital, but here are some other important tips to keep you safe:
- Disinfect your non-disposable lenses when you take them out at the end of each day and again in the morning before you put them back in.
- Always use a proper lens solution to disinfect. Never use tap or bottled water or your saliva.
- Use a fresh solution every day to soak your lenses in.
- Throw away disposables after each single wear.
- Clean your storage case regularly to avoid build-up of bacteria.
- Discontinue wearing them if your eyes become irritated.
The dos and don’ts of wearing contacts during COVID
A 2014 study (opens in new tab) conducted by the CDC revealed that 99% of wearers engage in improper behavior that increases the risk of eye infection? The good news is that learning a few basic do’s and don’ts can ensure that wearing this type of vision correction doesn’t damage your eye health.
Do wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses or touching your eyes. Use a mild oil- and fragrance-free soap to avoid irritation and dry your hands thoroughly afterward.
Don’t ever wear someone else’s contacts as infections are easily transmitted. This may seem like an obvious point, but you'd be surprised as to how many people think it's ok to share lenses.
Do clean your them after use and only use a proper solution, making sure to discard it after each use.
Don’t sleep in with them in as the cornea may swell and this can let in bacteria that can cause infection. For more help on this, read our feature on can you sleep with contacts in.
Do clean your storage case in warm soapy water once a week to avoid a build-up of nasty grime, gunk and bacteria that could lead to an eye infection.
Don’t wear lenses if you feel unwell or if your eyes are red, itchy or feel uncomfortable. If this persists, speak to your eye doctor to determine the cause.
Do visit your eye doctor regularly and check in with them if you experience any pain or discomfort between visits. If you don't have coverage, yet you spend a lot of eye exams and vision wear each year, you may benefit from taking out best vision insurance for your particular eye needs.
How does the coronavirus affect your eyes?
While a lot of attention has been given to how COVID-19 affects the respiratory tract, there’s been less focus on how it affects the eyes. While the most common coronavirus symptoms (opens in new tab) are a cough, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, and fever, which you can monitor using one of the best digital thermometers (opens in new tab), around 1-3% of coronavirus patients will also get conjunctivitis.
Also referred to as 'pink eye', conjunctivitis is the result of the virus infecting a transparent tissue called the conjunctiva, which covers the white part of the eye. Typical symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Burning or gritty feeling
- Discharge from one or both eyes
- Itchiness and redness
- Excessive watering
Now, don't panic! If you have conjunctivitis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the coronavirus, as there are many causes of conjunctivitis. That said, it pays to exercise caution during the pandemic. If your conjunctivitis symptoms are also accompanied by symptoms such as a high temperature and a cough, it’s important that you follow the current coronavirus guidelines in your area.
This likely means self-isolating until you’ve taken and received the results of a coronavirus test, and it also means avoiding contact with others. Call your doctor if you’re unsure of what to do, and learn when to seek urgent medical care. The CDC has an excellent guide (opens in new tab) to the coronavirus warning signs that mean you should seek immediate medical assistance.