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Coronavirus Transmission Through the Eyes

| Modified on Feb 02, 2024

New research is indicating it is possible to get coronavirus exposure through the eyes.

Potentially, droplets from an infected person can end up in a person's mouth, nose, and eyes and travel to the lungs, according to the CDC. Mucous membranes, like the eyes, are the most susceptible areas for viral transmission.

Joseph Fair, Ph.D., Virologist, and NBC News contributor, raised concern about exposure through the eyes when he became critically ill with COVID-19. In an interview from a hospital bed in New Orleans, Dr. Fair said that he had flown on a crowded plane wearing a mask and gloves, but no eye protection.

"My best guess," he says, "was that it came through the eye route."

When asked if people should start wearing eye protection, Dr. Fair replied, "In my opinion, yes."

Coronavirus Transmission Through the Eyes

The American Optometric Association (AOA) has also recently indicated that the coronavirus might enter your body through the conjunctiva, which is the transparent, thin membrane that covers part of the front eye and inner parts of the eyelid.Eye Anatomy

Through the blood vessels within the conjunctiva, the coronavirus can then spread throughout your body.

It is well established in research that the conjunctiva can be infected by adenoviruses like the common cold and the herpes simplex virus. There is the same chance of infection with SARS-CoV-2, according to Elia Duh, MD, researcher, an professor of ophthalmology at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Says Dr. Duh: "If there are droplets that an infected individual is producing by coughing or sneezing or even speaking, then the front of the eyes are directly exposed, just like the nasal passages are exposed. In addition, people rub and touch their eyes a lot. So there's certainly already the vulnerability."

recent report published by JAMA Ophthalmology found preliminary data that SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted through the eyes.

Researchers analyzed the data from 38 patients infected with COVID-19 in China and found that over 31% had eye issues such as epiphora (watery eyes), conjunctival congestion, or chemosis (swelling of the conjunctiva).

Alfred Sommer, MD at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health commented on the study: "The primary importance of this finding is epidemiologic: it confirms other reports that the virus can invade the conjunctiva, which might, in turn, serve as a source of its spread."

How Long Can Coronavirus Stay in the Air?

According to the WHO, infected airborne particles from coughs and sneezes are heavy enough that they cannot travel more than about 1 meter (3 feet). Other research, however, has found that infected droplets can travel 7–8 meters (23-27 meters).

Because airborne particles are much smaller than droplets, they can also linger in the air for longer.  The measles virus, can remain contagious in the air for up to 2 hours. Air currents can also carry airborne particles longer distances.

How to Protect Your Eyes During COVID-19

Guarding your eyes, not just your hands, nose, and mouth, can slow the spread of coronavirus. Here are some ways that you can keep your eyes protected during this coronavirus outbreak:

1. Wearing glasses adds a layer of protection.

Sunglasses or eyeglasses can help shield your eyes from respiratory droplets. However, they don't provide complete security. Infected droplets can reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops, and bottoms of your glasses.

2. Avoid rubbing your eyes.

This is a challenging one to avoid, especially if you have dry or itchy eyes from allergies. If you must touch your eyes for any reason, wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Rewash them after touching your eyes.

3.  If you wear contact lenses, consider switching to glasses during public outings.

While there's no evidence that wearing contact lenses increases your risk of coronavirus infection, contact lens wearers touch their eyes more than the average person.

What Types of Glasses Protect the Eyes Against COVID-19?

Glasses that have protective material on the top and sides are recommended.

Safety Glasses

While safety glasses do not provide the same level of eye protection as goggles, they do offer some additional eye protection. Make sure to look for glasses with side shields.


Here are two inexpensive products on Amazon with high ratings.

$19.99 Safety Glasses - with Clear Anti-Scratch Wraparound Lenses, Adjustable Arms, Side Shields, UV400 Protection, ANSI Z87 & OSHA Certified (Black & Orange)

B07BH1WFCY $7.99 2 Pairs Slip On Clear Side Shields for Safety Glasses-Fits Medium to Large Eyeglasses

When to Wear Safety Glasses

You should think about this extra layer of protection on planes, trains, crowded streets and shops.

Safety Goggles

Goggles provide the highest level of eye protection from respiratory droplets, sprays and splashes. Many styles of goggles fit over prescription glasses with minimal gaps.  Make sure your goggles fit snugly from the corner of the eye across the brow.

Here are two inexpensive but highly-rated products on Amazon.

$14.99 DEWALT DPG82-11/DPG82-11CTR Concealer Clear Anti-Fog Dual Mold Safety Goggle

 $12.99 Bevi Safety Goggles Glasses Anti-Fog Protective Eye Shield with Vents for Droplet Infection Full Protection Chemical Eyewear for Home Laboratory Workplace

When to Wear Safety Goggles

You should think about this extra layer of protection when caring for an infected person.

Should you have questions about your eyes, or if you have any symptoms of pink eye (viral conjunctivitis) during this COVID-19 outbreak, contact your ophthalmologist.

Related Links:

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1 User Review

Posted by Art (California) on 06/06/2020 2072 posts

I wear safety glasses since I saw a South Korean doctor who is considered to be “thee authority” in S.K. on SARS CoV-2 / Covid-19 suggest that it may help because they have found virus in the eyes and tears of patients and airborne droplets can easily find their way there. The video had subtitles and was easy to follow. Actually, there are at least two of these videos with him and both were very interesting. What I liked about him is that he did not seem to be working toward any type of political agenda, just straight facts about the virus and what they are doing in SK to deal with it. It was kind of refreshing listening to his straight forward answers!

Here is a link to one of the videos featuring Professor Woo-Joo Kim. You never get the impression that he is trying to be evasive with his answers, just facts based on his experience with Covid-19. Somewhat similar to Dr. Seheult of the MedCram series, but less technical than Dr. Seheult.

As far as the safety glasses, it seems like a small measure to try and reduce the risk of infection. Yes, even though I believe in the science behind melatonin for Covid-19, at this point I would prefer not to be infected if possible, so I do wear an N-95 mask and safety glasses that wrap around.