Older woman applying eye drops

Eye Care Concerns during COVID-19

Many people with eye conditions are worried about the health of their eyes during the coronavirus crisis. Some patients will experience interruption to their regular eye care appointments, but rest assured for those who need urgent or emergency care or vision-preserving treatments, it will most likely be available. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Academy of Optometry (AAOPT) have provided guidelines for eye care practitioners, which we have summarized below.

Recommendations on Eye safety and Eye care from Eye Doctors

First, proper handwashing and social distancing are paramount in reducing your risk, as well as the risk to others, of contracting the virus. Keep your hands away from your face; don’t touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Results from a limited study of 17 patients with COVID-19 symptoms showed the virus was not present in their tears. This may mean it is not transmitted through eye secretions, but it needs to be studied further. The AAO reports that in rare cases, the virus can enter the eye and cause conjunctivitis or “pink eye,” which is a surface infection only. When there is an active eye infection, the secretions can carry germs. Keep in mind, not every “pink eye” case will be a coronavirus infection, though it should be handled as if it may be.

What About Using Eye Drops Safely?

Some people need to take prescribed eye drops and this may require special steps to avoid infection. Here is what eye doctors recommend:

  • First, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after using any eye drops. If anyone else touches the bottles, wipe them with a disinfectant first. Avoid touching the tip of the bottles and don’t share bottles with anyone.
  • Stock up on essential eye drops like glaucoma medicines. Insurers will approve a 3-month supply of medications in times like this. Ask your pharmacist or ophthalmologist if you need help getting approval from your insurance company. Don’t wait until the last minute to order refills.
  • Avoid touching irritated or dry eyes with your fingers. Use a tissue to itch or dab at eyes and then throw it away and wash your hands promptly. Consider using moisturizing eye drops if you are experiencing irritated, dry eyes and follow the above careful steps. This will help prevent rubbing and touching eyes.
  • If you wear contacts, the American Academy of Ophthalmology provides recommendations to prevent infections.

Precautions to Follow Regarding Eye Appointments

  • Some clinics are using telehealth technologies and phone calls to conduct appointments. Your clinic will instruct you on how to use this type of care and it will be reimbursed by Medicare and other insurances as rules for telehealth have recently been changed.
  • If your doctor determines you need to be seen in the office, there will be new ways of doing things to protect you, other patients, and office staff from exposure to the coronavirus.
  • Let your eye doctor’s office know if you have a cough or a fever or have been in close contact with someone who has these symptoms before coming to an appointment. You may be asked to stay home if you do not have an emergency.
  • If you must come to the clinic sick, your doctor will ask you to wear a protective mask and wait in a separate room away from others.
  • Social distancing will be enforced. You may be asked to wait outside the building or in your car. Clinics are restricting the number of people to enter so please do not bring anyone with you to the appointment unless absolutely necessary.
  • Eye doctors and their staff will be thoroughly disinfecting surfaces and equipment between patients. They may wear protective masks and plastic shields during close-up exams. They will wait to speak and ask you to do the same until the exam is done and they can move to a safe distance, 6 feet or more apart.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze during the eye exam, push back from the machine and bury your face in your bent elbow or a tissue. Discard the tissue and wash your hands immediately.

Call your eye care provider if:

  • You get regular injections for macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.
  • You experience sudden changes in your vision (like blurry, wavy or blank spots in your field of vision) or have sudden loss of vision.
  • You notice a lot of new floaters or flashes in your vision.
  • You have eye pain, headache, red eye, nausea and vomiting.

American Academy of Ophthalmology spokesperson Rahul N. Khurana, MD. says, ““The ophthalmic community considers our seniors and everyone in a high-risk group to be a valuable part of our society. We want to perform essential care to preserve your sight.”

If you have questions or concerns related to vision loss during the COVID-19 crisis, please reach out to us Toll Free at 1-800-232-5463 or connectcenter@aph.org.

Additional Resources

Prevent Infection with Proper Contact Lens Care

American Academy of Optometry Covid 19 Update

COVID-19 Pink eye Infection

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