COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Eye Health Care Guide for Patients
While changes will 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 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.
In-person, comprehensive eye health care provided by a doctor of optometry is one of the most important, preventive ways to preserve vision and overall health. 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, the public can continue to look to AOA doctors as trusted health care professionals providing essential primary eye care.
When scheduling your next appointment, ask your doctor about new protocols they have in place to keep you safe.
Eye health patient information during COVID-19
As optometry practices reopen and operations proceed under a "new normal," the AOA and member doctors of optometry are working to ensure the continued safe delivery of essential eye care by doctors of optometry during the COVID-19 public health emergency for patients and the public.
- See how you can prepare for your next office visit with these eye health patient safety tips.
- Learn what new steps and protocols optometry offices are implementing to protect your health and safety.
- Learn more about coronavirus and the eyes, including how to protect your overall health.
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 is considered as "urgent, emergency or essential" care?
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 are some examples of an eye emergency?
- Trauma to the eye.
- Red eye.
- Painful eye.
- Flashes of light.
- Floaters in vision.
- Strange or sudden changes in vision.
- Monitoring of a condition where postponement may cause permanent vision loss.
What should I do if there's an eye-related emergency?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly 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.
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.
Is it safe to wear contact lenses during the coronavirus pandemic?
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, patients continue to look to doctors of optometry, their primary eye health care physicians, for accurate eye health and vision guidance. When it comes to contact lens wear, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and doctors of optometry want to reinforce that contact lenses are a safe and effective form of vision correction for millions of people. The AOA provides the following advice to ensure proper wear and care for contact lenses.
- Contact lenses themselves will not give you COVID 19. Contact lens wearers should always practice good hygiene when handling lenses. It has been noted that contact lens wearers touch their faces and eyes when inserting and removing lenses. Touching your face can spread germs.
- Exercise proper hand washing. When using contact lenses or spectacles, one should wash their hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand drying with unused paper towels. This should occur before every contact lens insertion and removal. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. People should avoid touching their face, including their eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Disinfect contact lenses. Contact lens wearers should either dispose of their daily disposable lenses each evening, or regularly disinfect their monthly and two-week lenses according to instructions from the manufacturer and one's doctor of optometry.
- Discontinue lens wear if sick. Consistent with recommendations for other types of illness, those who feel ill with cold or flu-like symptoms should cease contact lens wear.
- Glasses are not proven to offer protection. There is no scientific evidence that wearing spectacles or glasses provides protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions.
If you have a contact lens prescription that is nearing expiration or has expired, contact your doctor of optometry. Doctors of optometry are working with patients to ensure they have access to needed medical devices. No federal laws related to the Contact Lens Rule prescription verification process have been suspended or waived.
Healthy individuals can continue to wear and care for their contact lenses as prescribed by their doctor of optometry.
Individuals should continue to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on how to protect themselves from COVID-19.
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 must 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 several 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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