Can you catch coronavirus through your eyes?
19 March 2020
How does coronavirus spread?
Coronavirus: it’s all we’re seeing on the news, hearing about from people around us, and worrying about as we rush to the shops to stock up on 48 rolls of toilet paper. It can feel a bit overwhelming, especially as travel bans come into place and social distancing is encouraged, but it’s crucial that we slow the spread as much as we can. Even if you’re healthy and won’t suffer much with COVID-19, we need to take steps to prevent more vulnerable members of society such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 (the name given to this particular strain of coronavirus) spreads between people quite easily. Virus particles are released when infected people cough or sneeze, and these droplets can then be inhaled by other people who are nearby. This means that most people are infected through their nose or mouth but COVID-19 can also enter your system through your eyes.
Your eyes are lined by mucous membranes, a thick protective fluid. Primarily, this membrane is to stop dirt and grit from entering your body through the eyes, as well as ensuring that your eyes stay well hydrated. However, with COVID-19, this mucous membrane becomes an easy point of access for the virus to enter your body. Further to this, the virus can also spread through your tears. If your tears land on a surface, it’s important to disinfect it as COVID-19 can live outside the body (which is another way in which it spreads). It’s thought that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel. This makes disinfecting surfaces even more crucial.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
We are probably all quite familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19 now and, should you experience any of them, it’s important to self-isolate for the next 14 days to reduce any potential spreading. Your symptoms can appear any time from between 2-14 days after you have been exposed to the virus. You need to look out for:
- Breathing problems
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
The last symptom on the above list, conjunctivitis (inflammation of your eye’s membrane), is one which isn’t mentioned all that much when it comes to identifying the virus in patients. However, up to 3% of patients experience eye infections as a result of contracting COVID-19. This typically comes in the form of red, watery eyes with a gritty feeling or foreign body sensation in the eye. Inserting artificial tear drops into your eyes might provide some relief. The infection should usually go away on its own over 1-2 weeks.
If you experience conjunctivitis, you should check that you have no other flu-like symptoms as – at this time – it could well be an indication of COVID-19. The virus can enter your eyes either through aerosol transmission (when somebody close by coughs or sneezes) or by you touching your eyes when you have the virus on your hands.
How can you reduce the spread?
So, how can you make sure you’re doing everything possible to contain the virus and stop yourself from spreading it to vulnerable people? It goes without saying that regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face are the two most effective methods of mitigating COVID-19’s spread. Ultimately, your hands are only clean until you touch your face (even if you have no symptoms, you could still be infected) or until you touch the next infected surface.
- Wash your hands. Do this regularly throughout the day, particularly before eating and touching your face, and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Make sure you clean around and under your nails, as well as in between your fingers.
- Don’t touch your face. This will prevent any germs on your hands from reaching your mouth, nose and eyes – all of which are entry points for the virus into your body. Your T-zone should especially be avoided as this is closest to the entry points. It’s thought that, on average, touching your face opens up 11 transmission opportunities per hour.
- Avoid contact with the infected. This advice is quite basic and is simply that if anyone is known to be suffering with flu-like symptoms, you should keep away for 14 days. This will prevent the virus from entering through your nose, mouth, and the mucous membrane in your eyes when the infected person sneezes or coughs.
- Self-isolate. If you are suffering with any of the symptoms previously mentioned in this piece, it’s important that you self-isolate for 2 weeks. Even if you feel up to leaving the house, you may pass the virus onto someone who is in poor health and may not be as lucky as you. Staying at home ensures that you cannot infect anyone else.
- Cover your nose and mouth. When you cough or sneeze, it’s crucial to cover your nose and mouth with the crook of your elbow. Try not to use your hands as you’re more likely to touch surfaces with these and spread the germs. Your cough and sneeze particles can spread up to 6 feet away from you if you don’t cover your face when doing so.
- Disinfect surfaces. Wiping down and disinfecting surfaces that may have come into contact with COVID-19 particles is the best way to keep your home and work environments clean and safe.
- Avoid contact lenses. This is going to be quite a lifestyle change for the 4 million British people who wear contact lenses regularly, but it is necessary. Inserting and removing contact lenses on a daily basis means you’re touching your eyes far more than the average person. As we established that you can indeed catch the virus through your eyes, this puts your health and your eyesight at unnecessary risk. Consider switching to glasses for this period, in order to preserve your eye health as much as possible.
As COVID-19 continues to spread both throughout the world and the UK, it’s never been more important to observe basic hygiene guidelines to mitigate the spread. Keeping your hands clean and away from your face – including your eyes – are the most effective things you can do during this pandemic.
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