During a recent Instagram Live session with American news channel ABC News, Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that apart from wearing face masks, people should turn to goggles and eye-shields to protect themselves from covid-19.
Wearing a face mask is right up there in the list of covid-19 precautions. But can you contract the novel coronavirus through your eyes? According to the World Health Organisation, the disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth. These are expelled when a person infected with covid-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks. If another person breathes or inhales these droplets, they can catch the disease.
These droplets can also settle on surfaces and other objects and if a person comes in contact with these surfaces—like tables, doorknobs etc—and then touches their nose, mouth or eyes, the chances of infection are still high. Multiple studies from the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak also show how the lack of eye protection was a primary risk factor in its spread, especially among healthcare workers.
But how does the virus infect a person through their eyes? “Our respiratory tract has a mucosal membrane layer, which is highly vascular. Viruses gain entry through the blood vessels of the respiratory tract. The same microvasculature is present in the eyes, which are also covered by the conjunctiva—a variant of the mucous membrane layer. This layer is highly permeable,” says Dr Arvind Kumar, senior consultant in Ophthalmology at the Fortis Escorts Hospital in Faridabad. This mucous membrane layer is not as tough as, say, the human skin, Kumar explains. Once an organism or virus attaches itself to the membrane, it enters the body’s system and then through blood vessels reaches a target organ.
Another reason to keep your eyes protected is that any sort of ocular fluid, or secretions from the eyes, could put others around you at risk. “If you are infected, there’s every chance your eyes will be watery. If you touch your eyes in such a scenario and then touch any common objects, that puts others at the risk of infection,” adds Kumar.
This is where protective wear like goggles and face shields come in to play. They not only protect you from infected droplets but also stop you from touching your eyes—which is a force of habit for many. A recent post on the American Academy of Ophthalmology website says you should also avoid rubbing your eyes as much as possible. The post adds that while wearing glasses may “add a layer of protection”, if you’re taking care for a sick patient or potentially exposed person, “safety goggles may offer a stronger defense.”
Global research also suggests that using protective eyewear can cut down the chances of infection. Earlier this year, a comprehensive meta-analysis and review of physical distancing, face masks, and eye-protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus found that optimum eye-protection, both in public and outdoor settings, was “associated with less infection”. This study analysed 172 observational studies across 16 countries and six continents, and was published in The Lancet journal in June. “If you are not able to use face shields, then use goggles, particularly if you are venturing into crowded places,” says Kumar. “You are vulnerable (to infection) in such situations. You not only have to protect your eyes, but your nose and mouth too. So it's advisable to wear a good face mask with goggles,” he adds.
The market is now full of personal protective products, especially in the eyewear category. Here’s a look at some goggles and face shields that you can consider.
Stoggles: These simple-looking everyday goggles come with side and top-shields to block your fingers from reaching your eyes. They are not only light and comfortable, but also come with anti-fog coating, making it useful to wear with masks.
Designed by the US-based company ROAV Eyewear; live on Indiegogo now.
Aarmr BREEZ-93: This innovative face-shield by the Manesar-based design studio Desmania Design can be used while you are travelling, working or for other daily activities. Its transparent face design makes sure your face is clearly visible. It also comes with advanced inhale and exhale filters to offer comfortable breathing.
Available on Flipkart
Safety glasses from 3M: 3M India has a diverse range of safety glasses in their protective eyewear segment. They come in a variety of designs: be it stylish sports eyewear or the classic goggles.
Available on 3MIndia.in