COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Eye Health Care Guide for Patients

Taking care of your health is critical and you may have concerns related to eye health as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Doctors of optometry are resuming the delivery of comprehensive eye health and vision care and implementing new protocols to provide care in a safe and healthy environment.
Eye Exam in COVID-19

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.

Why is my doctor of optometry's office closed for routine care?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have strongly advised that healthcare facilities and clinicians nationwide, including doctors of optometry, restrict their in-person visits and procedures to urgent and emergency patients only for the next several weeks. In addition, all routine eye care visits should be postponed to a later date. Essential eye health and vision care may be necessary, which can be determined on an individual basis by consulting with your doctor. These measures are in place to not only keep you safe, but also to combat further community spread and a wider outbreak of COVID-19.

Are there precautions in place if I do have to have an in-person visit?

If you do require an in-person visit, doctors and their essential professional staff are ensuring that all fully appropriate care preparation guidelines and requirements are strictly observed, including following the CDC Guidance for healthcare facilities. This may involve practicing social distancing, having patients fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire before arriving to or entering the office and ensuring that the office is routinely and meticulously cleaned and disinfected.

Can I receive virtual care while routine, in-person procedures are temporarily suspended?

During the current public health emergency, some doctors of optometry are turning to telehealth to be able to continue to care for their patients for a variety of conditions including conjunctivitis, eye discomfort, sudden changes to vision and other issues. Telehealth services can provide flexibility and an easy way for patients to remain safe while reducing community spread of COVID-19. Your doctor may be able to resolve your problem over the phone or they may recommend a video call to help address any potential medical issues. These virtual telehealth visits are now covered by Medicare and Medicaid and many other insurance plans without a deductible or co-pay. Your doctor can also direct you to in-person diagnosis and/or care services, when necessary. Contact your local doctor of optometry to determine whether they are currently offering remote services.

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

What is considered as "urgent, emergency or essential" care?

Essential 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, as assessed through virtual prescreening by the doctor of optometry caring for the individual patient. Added considerations may be provided on an individual basis for patients who have lost or broken their glasses or contact lenses. However, this decision will be made by the treating doctor with consideration given to prescription needs and level of disability without correction.

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? Should I go directly to the hospital emergency room?

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.  According to a finding by the AOA's Health Policy Institute, treating eye emergencies at the eye doctors' offices has the combined potential to divert 1.4 million patients away from emergency departments each year. Most eye issues, such as infections, foreign bodies and eye injuries, can be treated by your local doctor of optometry, eliminating the need to go to an emergency room at a local hospital, and risking contact with others who may be infected.

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.

Coronavirus & eye health

How does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a novel (new) disease meaning there is no immunity to COVID-19. Health and medical experts are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes and to what extent it may continue to spread in the United States. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. According to the 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 have the virus on it by touching the surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Can wearing glasses help protect my eyes from exposure?

Standard glasses have not been proven to offer protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions. Safety glasses offer front and side protection and safety goggles offer splash protection that are helpful to protect against COVID-19.

Is conjunctivitis (pink eye) a symptom of coronavirus?

Conjunctivitis can be a sign of COVID-19. Additionally, COVID-19 may also present with other ocular signs and symptoms such as extreme light sensitivity, irritation and watery discharge. These are self-limiting but may require supportive care. If you have persistent red eyes, contact your local doctor of optometry's office for accurate eye health guidance.

Can the virus be spread through tears?

There is conflicting information regarding the expression of the virus in tears. However, it is clear in multiple medical reports from the epicenter of the breakout in Wuhan (Hubei Province), China where the virus originated, that in addition to the respiratory transmission potential, COVID-19 can be found in the tears and conjunctiva of patients that are positive for the virus with or without obvious conjunctivitis. In addition, it was reported while there is a low prevalence of COVID-19 in tears, it is possible to transmit via the tears. 

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