Right now, we are all dealing with the impact of a global pandemic. The virus known as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Despite the copious amounts of information available to us, there is still a lot about the coronavirus that is unknown. However, one thing we know for certain that can help to prevent it from spreading is to wash your hands and avoid touching your face and eyes.

Here in the Living with KC community, we hope to clear up some confusion around COVID-19 and your eye health. Keep reading to learn ways to help prevent yourself from contracting the virus and how future doctor appointments might be affected.

What Is COVID-19 and How Does It Impact Health?

This novel coronavirus, which many are referring to as “COVID-19,” can affect people differently, resulting in anything from mild symptoms to severe respiratory illness. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It is currently believed that this virus is mainly spread from person to person when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). When someone coughs or talks virus particles can spray from the mouth or nose into another person’s face. These droplets can enter the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes. While some cases are mild with flu-like symptoms, others can be more serious, especially for people with underlying chronic conditions, including those with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, people with serious heart conditions, or those who are immunocompromised.

Can COVID-19 Enter My Body Through My Eyes?

It is highly advised by the CDC and other organizations that you avoid touching your face during this time, especially since COVID-19 can be spread through “respiratory droplets” into your eyes when you touch your eyes with unwashed hands. Another way this coronavirus can spread is through tears. Touching tears or a surface where tears have landed can be another portal to infection. Making sure you limit the number of surfaces you touch – like a table or doorknob – so you do not unknowingly pick up the virus, is important in stopping the spread.

Will This Virus Effect My Scheduled Medical Appointments?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has announced that each practice and organization will need to make its own decisions based in part on local factors. The AAO understands that “urgency” is determined by physicians, and they must consider patients’ medical and social circumstances. Contact your physician’s office to understand how they are handling scheduling during the outbreak.

If you have an urgent need to visit the eye doctor, the AAO wants to prepare you for some changes you may face:

  • You may be asked to wait outside or in your car instead of in the normal waiting room.
  • Your eye doctor may use a special plastic breath shield on the slit lamp machine as they examine your eyes.
  • The clinic is likely restricting the number of people that enter. If you do not need someone to be there with you, avoid bringing anyone to your appointment.
  • Your doctor may be using telemedicine for “virtual” visits over the phone or video chat over a computer.

If you are feeling sick, your eye doctor may also recommend you take some extra precautions:

  • Let your doctor know ahead of your appointment if you have a cough or a fever or have been in close contact with someone who has been sick; your appointment will likely be rescheduled.
  • If you are sick, you may be asked to wear a mask and wait in a separate room.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze during your appointment, move back from the microscope, bury you face in the crook of your arm or cover your face with a tissue. Wash your hands with soap and water right away.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself From Contracting COVID-19?

One primary precaution is to not touch your face, which also includes touching/rubbing your eyes. With flu and allergy season in full swing, this task may be difficult to avoid, but it’s very important and can help you stay healthy!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and how you can protect your health:

  • Wash your hands: as often as possible with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after using the restroom, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
  • Use a hand sanitizer: with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask: when you have to go out in public
  • Do not touch your face: especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth: if you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people: stay at least 6 feet away.
  • Stay home: especially if you feel sick, but even if you feel healthy. It’s beneficial to practice social distancing.
  • Regularly disinfect: any commonly touched surfaces and items, including doorknobs, counters, handles, and faucets.

Specifically, when it comes to your eye health, here are some precautions you can take to reduce your risk of infection:

  • Avoid contacts (if you can): you can touch your eyes more often when wearing contacts.
  • Switch to glasses: glasses and sunglasses can be a protective layer from respiratory droplets.
  • Stock up on your prescriptions or switch to delivery: take precautions in case you become quarantined.
  • DO NOT run your eyes! Specifically, people with keratoconus are more prone to eye rubbing and dry eye making them more susceptible to touching their eyes. To avoid contracting COVID-19 and other viruses/infections, it’s very important to not touch your eyes.

Conclusion

While the news during this time may seem scary and overwhelming, it’s important to stay calm and understand how you can make a difference in stopping the spread of the virus. Make sure you are following your local and state guidelines, as well as those shared by the CDC and the White House, including working from home (if you are a non-essential worker) and practicing social distancing. Changes to your lifestyle may seem drastic or burdensome, but in the end, it will help to slow down the spread of this virus and keep you and your loved ones healthy.

Stay safe and contact your physician if you have any questions about your eye health. For more information on keratoconus and general eye health, make sure to follow Living with KC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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