People who wear glasses may be at lower risk of catching COVID-19 than those who do not wear glasses, early Chinese research shows.
The researchers analyzed data from 276 patients at a hospital in the Chinese province of Hubei and found that only about 6% said they wore glasses for more than 8 hours a day, all of whom had myopia or myopia. This is much lower than the estimated rate of myopia in Hubei from previous studies, which was 31.5%.
The new study, published Wednesday (September 16th) in the journal Ophthalmology JAMA, “is provocative and raises the possibility that the use of eye protection by the general public may offer some degree of protection against COVID-1
However, Maragakis warns that it is too early to recommend everyone to wear glasses, goggles or face shields in a public place, in addition to already wearing face masks, for protection against COVID-19. The new study has a number of limitations – for a start, the study is relatively small and involves patients in one hospital. Importantly, the study found only a link and could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between wearing glasses and protection from COVID-19, Maragakis said.
Maragakis called for more research to confirm the findings and determine “whether there is an added benefit to wearing glasses or other forms of eye protection in public places other than wearing a mask and physical distancing to reduce the risk of acquiring [COVID-19]. “
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Although it is recommended that healthcare professionals wear protective masks or goggles, along with face masks, to reduce the risk of infection with COVID-19, public health guidelines generally do not encourage the use of eye protection products for the public; they instead emphasize the importance of masks, physical distancing and hand washing. (The CDC does not recommend face shields as a substitute for face masks.)
The authors of the study from Suizhou Zengdu Hospital in Suizhou, China, decided to study the link between glasses and COVID-19 prophylaxis after noticing that few patients with COVID-19 in the hospital wear glasses.
They enrolled 276 patients in their study between January 27 and March 13, 2020. All participants were asked if they wear glasses, how long they wear glasses during the day, and why they need glasses.
Overall, 30 participants, or about 11%, said they wore glasses, but only 16 participants, or 5.8%, wore glasses for more than 8 hours a day, and this was for myopia. (The other 14 participants wore reading glasses.)
To compare this with the general population, the researcher used a study conducted in 1985 among students from Hubei Province, which showed that about a third have myopia, almost all of whom wear glasses.
However, Maragakis noted that this comparison group is a limitation of the study, as the study was conducted “decades earlier” and is not specific to Suizhou.
But overall, myopia is a common condition that is expected to affect 27% of the world’s population in 2010, with the highest prevalence in East Asia, according to World Health Organization.
None of the study participants wore contact lenses, so whether wearing contact lenses affects the risk of COVID-19 remains to be investigated, the authors say.
Behind the link
Researchers have not studied why glasses can reduce the risk of COVID-19, but they suggest that wearing glasses discourages people from touching their eyes, which would reduce the chances of people passing the virus from their hands to their eyes. Eye cells are known to have receptors that allow SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to enter the body; and the virus was found in eyes of patients with COVID-19.
Maragakis added that the glasses could also “serve as a partial barrier that reduces the inoculum. [amount] of the virus in a manner similar to that observed in cloth masks. “
“These findings suggest that the eye may be an important route of infection for COVID-19,
and more attention should be paid to preventive measures such as frequent hand washing and avoiding eye contact, the study authors conclude.
However, in addition to further studies to confirm the findings, researchers should also consider possible unintended consequences of a general recommendation to wear eye protection in public places. People who are not used to wearing glasses or goggles can actually touch their face more often when they remove, change or adjust their glasses, Maragakis said.
Originally published in Live Science.