It’s well-established that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eyes. This is the reason that health-care workers’ protective equipment includes face shields and goggles.
What’s less clear is whether ordinary eyeglasses might keep the coronavirus at bay. An observational study released Wednesday provides new insight into that question.
Researchers surveyed 276 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Suizhou, China, and determined which of them wore eyeglasses for at least eight hours a day.
The study, published by JAMA Opthamology, found that while 31 percent of the general population wore spectacles, only 5.8 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 did.
“These findings suggest that daily wearers of eyeglasses may be less likely to be infected with COVID-19,” the authors wrote.
Before all you myopic readers get too excited, Dr. Lisa L. Maragakis noted in an accompanying editorial that the study result showed a correlation, not a causation.
“Although it is tempting to conclude from this study that everyone should wear eyeglasses, goggles, or a face shield in public to protect their eyes and themselves from COVID-19, from an epidemiological perspective, we must be careful to avoid inferring a causal relationship from a single observational study,” she wrote.
“There may be an alternative explanation for the findings if, for instance, wearing eyeglasses is associated with another unknown and unmeasured factor associated with the risk of COVID-19.”
At the same time, it’s not hard to see how eyeglasses could form a barrier against airborne viral particles or keep people from constantly touching their eyes.
“If it is true that eyeglasses provide some degree of protection, then we would expect to see an even stronger protective effect from more complete types of eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield,” Maragakis wrote.
But before you head to the hardware store to buy a pair of industrial goggles, keep in mind that Maragakis says that more and bigger studies are needed to determine that the bespectacled really have a lower risk.