Everyday glasses—the kind worn by hipsters and nerds alike—may do more than just improve eyesight. Two recent studies are reporting that wearing eyeglasses—to the tune of 8 or more hours a day—appears to slow or even prevent the wearer from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
In a study1 from India published on the pre-print server medRxiv, author Amit Saxena reported the risk of COVID-19 was about 2-3 times less in the eyeglass-wearing population compared to the population not wearing glasses. In the study, 304 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were assessed for their eyeglass-wearing behavior; the eyeglass-wearing behavior of the general population was obtained from prior studies for comparison. He then assessed the risk for developing the disease. He found that nearly 40% of India’s adult population wears glasses, but only 19% of the those with COVID-19 wore glasses. He noted that SARS-CoV-2—the virus that spreads COVID-19)—is spread through respiratory droplets and contact routes. He attributed the drop in risk based on glasses preventing wearers from touching and rubbing their eyes with their hands as well as glasses providing a layer of protection to the nasolacrimal tear duct, thus preventing virus transmission from conjunctival sac to the nasopharynx.
Researchers from China found similar results when they looked at 276 patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 over a 47-day period. Median age of the group was 51 years (range, 41-58). This study appeared in JAMA Opthalmology.2 While the region is known for the large number of people needing glasses for nearsightedness (30%), only 5.8% of the hospitalized patients had nearsightedness that required they wear glasses for more than 8 hours a day. Unfortunately, eyeglass wearers who were hospitalized were just as sick as non-eyeglass wearers. The authors called for studies comparing eyeglasses to goggles and face shields to learn more about how to prevent transmission.
Both studies confirmed that wearing a mask remains critical to preventing the spread of the virus and noted that eyeglass wearers may want to wash their glasses daily, now that we know what could be stuck on the outside.
Saxena AK. Risk of Corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) among spectacles wearing population of Northern India. medRxiv preprint doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.12.21249710
Zeng W, Wang X, Li J, et al. Association of daily wear of eyeglasses with susceptibility to coronavirus disease 2019 infection. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2020;138(11):1196–1199.