Although there's no evidence to date that contact lens wearers are more at risk for contracting COVID-19 than eyeglass wearers, the pandemic is on the minds of patients when they see Jason Compton, O.D.
Perhaps because of warnings about not touching their faces (mouth, nose, eyes) to prevent the spread of illness or because conjunctivitis has been a symptom of the virus in a very few cases. Patients who wear contact lenses have questions for Dr. Compton, who practices in New York City and is chair of the AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section (CLCS).
"I've had several conversations with patients," Dr. Compton says. "It's up to me to reeducate them."
Contact Lens Health Week, Aug. 17-21, presents yet another chance to stress safe contact lens handling, as doctors of optometry do daily. Handwashing is an "essential first step in the fight against eye infections and COVID-19 transmission," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which organizes the observance.
And, as America's primary eye health care physicians, doctors of optometry are a top resource for eye health and vision information patients can turn to and trust.
"It is a good opportunity to talk to contact lens wearers about hygiene, what's important about it," agrees Dr. Compton, noting what he calls "misinformation out there" that wearers should avoid their contact lenses during the pandemic.
"But the literature to date doesn't support that," he says. "Provided patients follow all the same recommendations we've been saying for years on how to wear contact lenses and handling them properly, contact lens wear is safe."
AOA fortifies contact lens hygiene
The AOA and the CLCS reinforced their guidance and that of the CDC-that with proper hygiene contact lenses can be worn safely during the COVID-19 pandemic-in April when they issued, in light of the pandemic, longstanding recommendations on proper wear and care for contact lenses, including:
- Always practice good hygiene and follow proper safety precautions when handling lenses. It has been noted that contact lens wearers touch their faces and eyes when inserting and removing lenses, which can spread germs.
- Exercise proper handwashing. When using contact lenses or spectacles, wash your hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand drying with unused paper towels. This should occur before every contact lens insertion and removal. 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 non-disposable lenses according to instructions from the manufacturer and one's eye doctor.
- 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.
Contact Lens Health Week resources: Spread the message, not germs
Contact lenses provide a safe and effective form of vision correction for millions of Americans but wearing them is not entirely without risk. The AOA found that up to 90% of contact lens wearers do not follow the proper hygiene instructions for their lenses, which can pose serious risks to eye health and vision. Practicing safe contact lens wear and care hygiene habits, such as washing hands with soap and water before handling lenses, is important to help prevent transmission of any contact lens-related infection.
"Practitioners must remain vigilant about reminding contact lens wearers of the need to maintain good hand hygiene practices when handling lenses," write the authors of the literature review in Contact Lens & Anterior Eye, cited by Dr. Compton.
"A focus on fully compliant contact lens wear and especially on the modifiable risk factors associated with contact lens complications are especially important during the height of the pandemic, where access to primary and secondary optometric care may be substantially different to normal, and practitioners should act to minimize the burden on the wider health care system by considering their local clinical pathway options."
To promote the observance, the CDC and the AOA are offering various resources. Find CDC resources, including free posters and tear-off pads.
Additionally, AOA contact lens resources include:
- Promotional materials, including a customizable news release for AOA members and AOA resources on contact lens hygiene.
- Contact Lens Wear and Care pamphlets (in English and Spanish) in AOA Marketplace.
- View the #AskAOA Webinar: Contact Lens Rule Update - Critical Information for Doctors of Optometry.
- Download the Contact Lens Rule Compliance Toolkit, which includes information and guidance regarding how prescribers can comply with the updated regulations
Beyond Contact Lens Health Week, the AOA remains steadfast in advocating for the health and safety of contact lens-wearing patients. The AOA encourages doctors to report adverse events and illegal sales of contact lenses, considered medical devices, to the AOA, Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Report an adverse event related to contact lenses.
- Report problems with decorative contact lenses.
- Report a website illegally selling contact lenses.
- Report a contact lens seller with poor business practices.
- Email a de-identified case report to StopIllegalCLs@aoa.org to help bolster AOA's advocacy against harmful contact lens practices.
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Research has shown that co-morbidities matter when it comes to patients surviving COVID-19. One of those co-morbidities of concern is diabetes, and doctors of optometry annually detect thousands of diabetes-related manifestations in the eyes.