Frequently asked questions by eye care patients

COVID-19 - Coronavirus FAQ

Optometry practices reopening

Is it safe to go to eye doctor right now? Should I wait to book an appointment unless it's an emergency?

States have reopened health care access and doctors of optometry across the country are safely providing the full range of comprehensive eye health and vision care once again, including essential routine and urgent care, emergencies, telehealth consultations and more. Keeping one's eye health in check can help ensure patients are seeing their best and meeting individual visual needs related to their occupations, avocations and lifestyle. Whether you have eye health or urgent care needs, concerns about your eyes or vision—such as digital eye strain or dry eyes—or it's time for a comprehensive eye exam or contact lens evaluation, patients are encouraged to schedule appointments with their local doctor of optometry for their essential primary eye care needs.

What types of eye appointments are considered urgent?

Urgent visits may include medical visits related to systemic and ocular disease or injury where there is significant risk of permanent vision loss because of any postponement of care. They may also include visits where patients complain about discomfort and other symptoms that significantly interfere with day-to-day function.

What should I do if I have an eye emergency?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and place unprecedented strain on the U.S. healthcare system, patients with urgent or emergency eye care needs are urged to consult their local doctor of optometry before seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms. These actions will help reduce burdens on overwhelmed emergency departments and reduce your exposure to COVID-19 to combat further community spread and a wider outbreak.

What precautions are optometry practices taking to ensure their offices are as safe as possible?

Optometry offices are implementing new protocols to provide the care patients are seeking in a safe and healthy environment. While changes may vary from state-to-state as well as individual practice locations, patients can be assured that doctors of optometry, like all medical professionals, are adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as federal, state and local health directives regarding infection prevention measures and implementing appropriate safety procedures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the office. These not only include strict protocols for cleaning and sterilization, but measures to effectively manage patient flow and encourage physical distancing. Some of the new procedures patients can anticipate include screening for symptoms of COVID-19 and taking patients' temperature upon their arrival at the facility, limiting the number of guests allowed in waiting rooms and requiring everyone to wear a facemask and/or gloves before entering the office.

To find a practice near you, check out AOA's doctor locator.

What else can I do to avoid potential risks during my visit?

In addition to following office procedures, patients can use the following recommendations to help prepare for their visit:

  • Notify your doctor if you or anyone in your household display any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms, such as loss of the sense of smell or taste, or have fever or cough, consult with your primary care provider first unless you are experiencing ocular-related emergency warning signs.
  • Continue to keep about six feet between yourself and others. A cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands while in the office.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Bring hand sanitizer with you in case you are unable to wash your hands as necessary.

Am I allowed to bring someone with me to my appointment?

Many health care offices will request that you attend your appointment without accompaniment, unless you require assistance. If you do need assistance, alert the staff to your needs to help the office manage patient flow efficiently.

Do I have to wear a mask to enter the office?

The use of a facemask or cloth face cover that covers your nose and mouth and gloves are strongly recommended, and may even be required to enter a healthcare facility.

COVID-19 & eye health

Is it possible to catch COVID-19 through someone touching the area around your eye?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, particularly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). It can also spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or possibly your eyes. The eye is highly vascularized tissue (meaning it has a lot of blood vessels) that is in very close proximity to the sinuses and the brain, which makes it an easy entry point for viruses. As a result, COVID-19 may enter the body through the eyes and then spread to the whole body through the blood vessels within the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.

With everyone staying home, screen time is on the rise. How does blue light affect my health and vision and how can I protect my eyes while looking at a screen all day?

Common symptoms of digital eye strain include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain, and eye irritation. These symptoms may be caused by poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, improper viewing distances, poor seating posture, uncorrected vision problems, and a combination of these factors. While there is not a standardized number of hours adults should limit their screen time to, people who spend two or more continuous hours at a computer or using a digital screen device every day are at a greater risk of experiencing eye strain. If you are someone who has to work on a computer or use a digital screen for an extended period of time, you should take regular breaks throughout the day. Ideally, you want to try an activity or perform a task in which your eyes don't have to focus on something up close. The AOA also recommends patients follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

What's the difference between an online test and an in-person comprehensive eye exam? For people who may be wary to go into an office, can they renew their contact lens or glasses prescription online?

Patients need to be wary of any company that claims its device can replace the care that a doctor provides. The truth of the matter is, there are a number of components that are part of an in-person, comprehensive eye exam with a doctor of optometry and there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, at-home device or app that people can use to self-conduct all of the elements of a proper eye examination. When patients rely on an app for an eyeglass or contact lens prescription, they can receive inaccurate or misleading information and potentially delay essential sight saving treatment. In addition, changes in refractive status can be an underlying symptom of a number of eye or systemic conditions, which can only be detected through an in-person, comprehensive eye exam performed by a doctor of optometry. 

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