We know that the coronavirus can enter the body through the nose and mouth — hence the constant recommendations from doctors to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
But what about the eyes? Should we all be wearing goggles or face shields as well?
It’s certainly possible that a person could get COVID-19 through the eyes, said Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
There is “emerging evidence” that people are catching the virus from droplets floating in the air, the World Health Organization confirmed earlier this month. One of the ways those droplets can enter your body is through the eyes. It’s also possible to get infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Yes, it’s in the air,” Steinemann told CNN. “Can it land on the eye? Of course.”
Contracting the virus through your eyes is probably less likely, however, than getting it through your nose or mouth or from inhaling it, Steinemann said.
Steinemann said that if a significant number of people were getting infected through their eyes, doctors would probably see more COVID-19 patients with conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye (though having pink eye doesn’t necessarily mean you have the virus).
Also consider the path the virus would have to take to infect you. It would have to infect the surface of your eye and be carried to your nose through your tears, he said. From the nose, it would travel to the mouth or throat, and from there to the airways and into the lungs.
“That’s a rather circuitous route,” Steinemann said. “But I want to emphasize that it’s certainly plausible.”
So do you need to wear goggles?
So do you need to add goggles or face shields to your coronavirus wardrobe?
There’s been heightened interest around that question since Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was asked about it in a recent interview with ABC News.
Here’s what Fauci said: “If you really want perfect protection of your mucosal surfaces … you have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have you mucosa in the eye. Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces. So if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it. It’s not universally recommended. But if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it, if you can.”
But at a CNN coronavirus town hall on Thursday, Fauci suggested that his comments on eye coverings were overblown.
“I was talking to a group of teachers in a fireside chat and one of the teachers asked, ‘Can the virus enter through the eye?'” Fauci said. “Because some of the teachers were seeing people on television and wanted to wear eye shields.”
He continued, “And my response was, ‘Well certainly, if you have an eye shield and you’d like to wear it, it could help because the virus could enter through the eye.’ That’s not a recommendation that everybody should be wearing an eye shield.”
Steinemann said that eye coverings were a wise move for people who can’t reliably practice social distancing or those who have to be in areas where the air may be contaminated, perhaps because they’re a health care worker or a home caregiver for an infected patient.
But for the average person who is working from home or not coming into close contact with others outside the home, wearing a face mask and keeping a safe distance from others is probably enough.
“I’m less vehement in my recommendation for people that are basically taking good precautions, they are at home, they are working out of their house, they only go out to go to the grocery or get gas in their car, or things like that,” he said.
That’s because our eyes already have some pretty good built-in protection, like our eyelids and the reflex to blink, he said.
Bottom line: You should wear some sort of eye covering if you’re in high-risk situations where you’re likely to come into contact with the virus. And if you just want to be extra safe, goggles or a face shield can add an extra layer of protection. But for the average person, wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing should suffice.