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Abu Dhabi: People wearing glasses full-time may have some added protection from COVID-19, but it is still well-known precautionary measures like mask wearing and handwashing that provide the best defence, doctors have said.

Wearing eye protection is mainly recommended for people in high-risk groups within crowded, indoor spaces. For others, face masks, regular handwashing and social distancing are still the most effective precautions against COVID-19.

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China study

So far, no large-scale studies have been conducted to show the exact amount of protection eyeglasses offer. However, a widely reported study of 276 people admitted to a China hospital over a 47-day period had noted that the proportion of people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 was far less than the proportion of people of similar age who wore glasses in the area’s general population.

Specifically, only 6 per cent of the admitted COVID-19 patients who were part of the peer-reviewed study had worn glasses for more than eight hours a day. In contrast, 30 per cent of people of similar age in the area wear glasses for more than eight hours daily.

No proper study

Dr Boopathy Murugavel

“[This study] is more of more observational and anecdotal rather than a proper study, so its findings [should] be taking with a pinch of salt,” said Dr Boopathy Murugavel, ophthalmology specialist at Aster Hospital, Al Qusais.

Dr Sunil GT, specialist ophthalmologist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, agreed, saying that a larger sample size is needed to determine how protect wearing glasses can be. “[This study] has drawn its conclusions after analysing patient data from a hospital in a small province in China. The [number of people studied] is negligibly small to make any such analysis, and the data cannot be generalised. We have to conduct the study on a larger group across a larger geographical area to get insight into this,” he explained.

Dr Sunil GT

With that being said, the doctors did add that glasses do act as some kind of a barrier against aerosolised particles in the air that are carrying the coronavirus. “Eyes are one of the entry points through which the virus may enter our body and cause infection. The ocular surface and the tear sacs contain ACE-type 2 cell receptors, which is known to be the entry point for the virus. So the virus can get through when we tough our eyes with infected hands,” Dr GT said.

Touching the eyes more risky

“To some extent, glasses act as a protective shield, preventing the entry of the coronavirus through the eyes. More than that though, it helps prevent the involuntary touching with of the eyes with unclean fingers and hands,” he added.

Dr Murugavel also cautioned that glasses still allow for the virus to get through, and are not fully protective. “Wearing any form of spectacles may reduce the risk of contracting the infection through droplets, but the virus can still reach the eyes through the exposed upper, lower and side of the glasses. And even people who wear glasses can get infected if they touch or rub their eyes after touching an infected surface,” he said. This is the reason why glasses have not been recommended as essential personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

Glasses with PPE

“Protective safety goggles that cover the eyes, as well as the areas exposed by regular glasses, are rather advised — in addition to other protective gear — for health care workers who are required to work in proximity with patients, especially those on COVID-19 duty, as well as those involved in aerosol-generating procedures,” Dr Murugavel said.

“[Other than that], it is not absolutely essential for everyone to wear safety goggles, especially in countries like the UAE where it is mandatory for everyone to wear masks when stepping outside of their homes,” he said.

High-risk groups

Zero-power glasses can serve as an extra protective purpose for high-risk individuals. Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The elderly, and those with reduced immunity can also benefit from protective eyewear. “Glasses may help in preventing the virus from entering our body through the eyes. So, people belong to high-risk groups, like the elderly and the immunocompromised, can chooses to wear glasses in public, or when they are in crowded and closed spaces. Having said that, it is crucial that they [still] maintain social distancing, wear face masks, and continue to regularly sanitise their hands,” Dr GT said.

Sanitising glasses

Dr Safdar Zabeth, general practitioner at Medcare Medical Centre, Discovery Gardens and Motor City, said zero-power glasses can serve this extra protective purpose for high-risk individuals. But he said it is just as important to keep eyewear clear. “Glasses should be washed with soap water or any kind of hand sanitiser spray after returning home,” he said.

Dr Safdar Zabeth

When seeking protection from COVID-19, face masks offer better protection when worn by everyone: they prevent the infected from transmitting coronavirus-carrying droplets, and shield more accessible virus entry points — the nose and mouth — in healthy individuals.

Most effective measures

Social distancing keeps the infected away from others, even in cases where people are asymptomatic, or not known to be infected.

Finally, regular handwashing ensures that virus-carrying particles picked up when touching contaminated surfaces are not transmitted through the nose, mouth or eyes when touching the face unintentionally.