A new study suggested that eyeglasses can provide a beneficial side effect during this pandemic. Researchers found that eyeglasses offer a small amount of protection against SARS-CoV-2.
The protection provided by eyeglasses against SARS-CoV-2 was observed by researchers in China. Their observational study revealed the lower rate of COVID-19 cases among patients who wore eyeglasses due to visual problems. However, further studies must be conducted to better prove the findings. For those who are bothered by eyeglasses while wearing a face mask and face shield, the three items might result in greater protection. They published their findings in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
The Prevalence of People with Myopia
Millions of people around the globe have either nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia). Either of two visual problems can be detrimental to a person's quality of life. They can easily miss details from visual materials or even accidentally trip over something. Fortunately, these visual problems can easily be corrected by prescription eyeglasses, which can be obtained from an optometrist. Ophthalmologists may also diagnose a person with myopia or hyperopia, but they are likely to recommend an optometrist for the corrections.
According to The Impact of Myopia and High Myopia of 2015, a report by the World Health Organization, an estimated 27% and 2.8% of the world's population in 2010 had myopia and high myopia, respectively. These estimates were derived from several studies, in which the highest rate of myopia or 50% was identified in East Asia. In 2000, only 22% of the world's population had myopia, 5% less than in 2010. The report estimated that this year, the number of people with myopia would be 33%. By 2030, the estimated number would be 40% of the world's population. And by 2050, the estimated number might be 52% of the world's population.
Statista, a German portal for statistics, showed the estimated prevalence of some eye conditions that cause visual impairment. In 2019, the prevalence of myopia across all ages was 2,600 million of the world's population. It was followed by presbyopia in people of all ages with trachomatous trichiasis at 1,800 million, age-related macular degeneration among aged 30 to 97 years at 196 million, diabetic retinopathy among adults at 146 million, glaucoma among aged 40 to 80 years at 76 million, and trachomatous trichiasis at 2.5 million. Both myopia and presbyopia are commonly treated with corrective lenses.
The Association between Eyeglasses and SARS-CoV-2
Today, many governments are recommending the use of face masks and face shields outside. Some are implementing the use as mandatory to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. As far as science is concerned, wearing both items significantly decreases the odds of contracting the disease. If augmented with proper handwashing and physical distancing, the risk is considered to be incredibly low. But how about prescription glasses? Can these corrective lenses provide some level of protection?
In China, four institutions collaborated to investigate the role of eyeglasses in contracting COVID-19. They examined the association between daily use of prescription glasses and susceptibility to the disease. They observed that eyeglasses could offer some protection against COVID-19. But the protection was not equal to rates offered by face masks and face shields.
"Although this is an observational study and you cannot infer anything definitive from it, there is a suggestion that eye protection of any sort may decrease your risk of getting infected," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, quoted American online publisher WebMD.
A total of 276 patients were enrolled in the study. The participants were enrolled from the inpatient setting at Suizhou Zengdu Hospital, China, from January 27 to March 13, 2020. The diagnosis of COVID-19 among the participants was based on the fifth edition of Chinese COVID-19 diagnostic guidelines. The measure for regular use of eyeglasses was more than eight hours per day. The average age of patients was 51 years.
All patients who wore eyeglasses for over eight hours per day had myopia or nearsightedness. In a previous study, the prevalence of myopia in the Hubei province was 31.5% of the population. That prevalence was higher than the portion of patients with myopia in the current study. After adjustments and analyses, researchers estimated the risk of wearers to COVID-19 and compared them to non-wearers.
The observational study highlighted that COVID-19 patients who wore eyeglasses were less likely to contract the disease, compared to those who did wear one. The proportion was 5.8% of eyeglasses wearers were diagnosed and hospitalized due to COVID-19. It was lower than 31.5% non-wearers who were diagnosed and hospitalized. Researchers concluded that people who wore eyeglasses for over eight hours a day might be less prone to COVID-19.
The reduction in the risk is correlated to a person's tendency to touch their eyes. Since eyeglasses are a wedge between the eyes and hands, a person can become aware of touching their eyes. Their hands are unlikely to go over their eyes and fail to realize the obvious obstacle. It makes the person less likely to scratch their eyes, compared to those who do not wear eyeglasses. Whenever something irritates their eyes, they have to remove the accessory and focus on the task. The focus may lead to the conscious touching of the eyes. This awareness may alert the wearer to watch their hands first. Also, eyeglasses can act as a barrier between the eyes and viral particles. Although eyeglasses are smaller than face shields, they may potentially block some viral particles in droplets that can enter the eyes.
As a clarification, Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau, said that wearing eyeglasses is not good enough to protect oneself from COVID-19. The size of eyeglasses is insufficient to block the majority of viral particles in droplets, compared to goggles or face shields. This reason: eyeglasses do not cover the eyes completely.
The observational study simply pointed out that those wearing eyeglasses should keep them on while wearing a face mask or face shield. Aside from the additional protection rate, not wearing prescription eyeglasses may lead to adverse events due to impaired vision.