Hygiene essential when using contact lenses to protect patients against COVID-19

Considering the confusion regarding the safety of contact lenses during the coronavirus crisis, EuroTimes spoke with Esther-Simone Visser and Dieuwke van Ooik. They are responsible for safety policy at Visser Contact Lenses, a leading specialty contact lens practice in The Netherlands, where the primary focus is the use of contact lenses for medical needs.

Should contact lens wearers be worried about contracting COVID-19 via their contact lenses?
There is currently no strong scientific evidence to answer this question with real certainty, and the experts’ opinions are mixed. There are those, such as Lyndon Jones (University of Waterloo & CORE; Center for Ocular Research & Education), Professor Philip Morgan (University of Manchester) and Professor Jason Nichols (University of Alabama), who have offered their opinions in PR News Wire . They said that wearing contact lenses is still safe during the coronavirus outbreak, as long as good hygiene is practiced. This involves hand-washing before handling the contact lenses; cleaning the lenses daily; and respecting the maximum wearing times. The Dutch Association of Optometrists (OVN) has been quoted as saying that wearing contact lenses does not put patients at increased risk for coronavirus infection. This reflects the statements by the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), het International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) and the European Contact Lens Society of Ophthalmologists (ECLSO). On the other hand, several prominent ophthalmologists have advised against contact lens use during this pandemic. Dr. Lucio Buratto from Milan, Italy, pointed out that hard contact lenses are made of material on which the virus can remain for up to seven hours. This could theoretically lead to the conjunctiva being one of the preferential ways of penetration for the virus into the body. However, there is no scientific evidence that the virus can infect via the eyes.

If there is a risk, is it the same for all contact lenses, or does the risk vary depending on the type of contact lenses? For example, daily vs monthly lenses, hard vs soft lenses, etc?
When used correctly, dailies generally pose the lowest risk of infection. Clean hands are essential. However, when comparing hard vs soft lenses, hard lenses are safer, as there is more tear exchange, whereas soft lenses tend to absorb moisture . That said, with every lens type of lens it’s important to rub and rinse when cleaning them after removal.

The new coronavirus can spread via mucous membranes. What can people do to protect themselves?
Wash your hands well, both before inserting and before removing contact lenses. Also, try to touch your face as infrequently as possible. Regarding the coronavirus, we believe that the precautions are the same as the general hygiene recommendations , but even more important now . We recommend:

  • Always wash your hands first. Wash thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry your hands well with a clean towel or paper towel.
  • After inserting the lenses, discard the solution and clean the lens case with contact lens solution (not water!). Dry the lens case with a clean tissue and let it dry upside down on a tissue.
  • Stop wearing contact lenses if you feel ill.
  • Do not wear someone else’s contact lenses.
  • Do not swim or shower while wearing contact lenses. If necessary, wear swimming goggles.
  • Replace your contact lens case at least every 3 months, or after having had a cold or the flu.
  • If you do not wear your lenses for a few days, check the storage fluid insert for how long the lenses can stay in the fluid without having to change it.
  • Do not just switch you contact lens solution without first consulting your contact lens specialist. Not all cleaning solutions can be used with all contact lenses.
  • If you experience irritation, red eyes or ocular symptoms, remove your contact lenses and contact your contact lens specialist.

This interview was published in Eurotimes, April 10, 2020. Link to the article.