How does COVID-19 affect your eye health?
As an eye care specialist, I’d like to share my experience so far of how COVID-19 can affect your eye health.
My initial reaction was one of great concern since I assumed that the eyes might be a major point of virus entry. This would mean warning all my patients to not touch or rub eyes and for all contact lens wearers to take a break from wearing them.
Whilst there has been some back and forth on this issue, the consensus remains that the eye can be a potential point of entry. It’s worth noting that we as optometrists have always recommended contact lens wearers use their glasses whenever they have a respiratory infection/disease. This scenario holds for the case of COVID-19 as it is classified as a respiratory disease. Eyeglasses during this time may also be an added barrier for protection against viral entry through the eye.
It’s also interesting to note that viral (usually an adenovirus) conjunctivitis is often extremely contagious. Interestingly the advice has always been to self-isolate as much as possible. Transmission and risk of complications are spookily similar to COVID-19.
Hand cleaning and healthy eyes
The next issue of note is hand cleaning. Again this is an issue constantly discussed with all our contact lens wearers. We have always emphasised hand cleaning, however, it is worthwhile considering it a step further. The use of nail brushes to clean fingertips and under nails can be extremely effective as this is the area in potential close contact with people’s eyes or contact lenses.
Our main concern has typically been avoiding contact with the eyes by destructive bacteria, however, viruses are also a possibility. The general increased emphasis on the importance of hand cleaning has been an unexpected benefit from a terrible situation.
Screen time, myopia, and general eye health
The next alarming development is the surprising lack of discussion about the impact on the visual system by increased screen time. Because of the increase in at-home time, there has been a dramatic rise in near-vision activities, i.e. screen time. This has happened as adults and kids have been confined to home, but is equally relevant where long periods of time are spent on devices, regardless of COVID.
This home-based work, education, and entertainment was, in my opinion, a great move for the control of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it presents a potential tremendous increase in another pandemic; the eye disease known as myopia or short-sightedness.
This pandemic has been ongoing and increasing for more than 20 years. It has reached alarming penetration in most urban areas but especially in cities throughout Southeast Asia. In some Asian centres of population over 90% of kids are being affected by myopia/short-sightedness. This pandemic is a time bomb for eye health around the world. It involves an abnormal lengthening of the eye and this, in turn, leads to an increase in sight threatening conditions later in life.
It has been recognised that myopia onset is suppressed in kids who get more outdoor exposure. As such, kids should be encouraged to spend time on balconies and back yards, naturally using their distance vision. This is even more relevant when team sports are canceled.
For entertainment and visual training, the use of virtual reality systems are an excellent alternative to normal screen activities. Because the VR produces the appearance of distance, near focusing can be reduced.
Virtual reality training systems can also treat binocular eye issues that predispose eyes to grow and become more myopic. They can also assist with other visual problems which can reduce reading skills and sporting skills.
Book an eye test with your Optometrist
If you are at all concerned about your eye health, whether for yourself or your children, please book an appointment with us now.