- A small study out of China found people who wear glasses regularly were less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
- Though not as protective as goggles and face shields, glasses may provide a barrier against the virus or prevent people from touching their faces.
- Other factors could be at play that explain the link, though, and experts still don't recommend getting glasses if you don't otherwise need them.
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Needing glasses to go about your daily life can be a minor annoyance, but the frames may have an added bonus during the pandemic, a small study in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests.
In the study, published September 16, researchers in China looked at 276 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and found that less than 6% regularly wore glasses; all those who did so had myopia, or nearsightedness.
Compared to the 31.5% of the population estimated to need glasses for the same reason, the study authors suggested that people who wear glasses for at least eight hours a day may be less likely to contract COVID-19.
"These findings suggest that the eye may be an important infection route for COVID-19, and more attention should be paid to preventive measures such as frequent handwashing and avoiding touching the eyes," the researchers wrote.
Experts say it's understandable why eye protection may be linked to coronavirus protection, but it's too soon to suggest everyone shield their eyes.
Glasses may act as a barrier against the virus
The eyes, like the mouth and nose, are known to be potential entry-points for all sorts of bacteria and viruses, which is why healthcare workers wear goggles as part of their personal protective equipment.
While its unclear how readily the coronavirus enters through the eyes, non-healthcare workers may also benefit from using similar protection. A June review in The Lancet found that eye coverings like goggles, face shields, or visors might substantially reduce coronavirus infections.
"If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC health correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. "It's not universally recommended, but if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can."
Glasses, though not as protective as goggles or a shield, may deliver some of the same benefits, the latest study suggests.
Spectacles "may serve as a partial barrier that reduces the inoculum of virus in a manner similar to what has been observed for cloth masks," Dr. Lisa L. Maragakis of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wrote in a commentary accompanying the study.
They may also help prevent people from touching their eyes and faces, which in turn reduces coronavirus risk. That's why the American Academy of Ophthomology has suggested contact-wearers consider switching to glasses.
It's not necessary to start wearing glasses if you don't already need them
But there's a lot to learn before experts recommend glasses like they do face masks.
For instance, could the association between glasses and lower coronavirus risk be due to some other variable, like that glasses wearers may tend to be of higher socioeconomic statuses and less likely to be in close contact with others at essential jobs or in crowded housing?
Plus, it's possible that encouraging people with fine eyesight to get glasses could cause them to touch their faces more, or offer a false sense of security such that they slack on the most important protective measures: good hygiene, mask wearing, and physical distancing.
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