June 7, 2020 - Eye protection, when paired with face masks and social distancing, could provide additional protection against COVID-19 for those in high-risk categories, according to a new review published in The Lancet.

Eye protection includes goggles and face shields that cover the front and sides of the face, according to the CDC guidelines for health care workers.

The international research team, which was supported by the WHO, analyzed 44 studies across 26 countries and six continents from March through May 2020. Physical distancing plays the greatest role in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they wrote, and eye protection could reduce the risk of infection from 16% to 6% compared to those without eye protection.

“Eye protection may provide additional benefits,” lead author Holger Schunemann, co-director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases, Research Methods and Recommendations, said in a news release.

The research team also recommended other steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as handwashing and hygiene. People should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

“Although distancing, face masks and eye protection were each highly protective, none made individuals totally impervious from infection,” scientific lead Derek Chu also said in the news release.

So far, the CDC and other groups haven’t issued guidelines to the public about eye protection. In the advice for health care workers, the CDC recommends eye protection and face masks in locations with “moderate to substantial community transmission” to protect the eyes, nose and mouth from “splashes and sprays of infections material from others.”

In areas with low or no community spread, the CDC says, universal eye protection is optional.

Eye proection could also be helpful for those who have an underlying condition or work with the public often, such as in grocery stores, according to ABC News.

“Given the above evidence, wearing eye protection in high-risk situations seems prudent,” Vincente Diaz, MD, a specialist in ocular immunology infectious diseases at the Yale University School of Medicine, told the news outlet. “If choosing between glasses and contacts, glasses can provide an additional protective barrier.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology said glasses or sunglasses can shield the eyes from infected respiratory droplets, according to a May 22 blog post. Those who wear contacts may be more likely to touch their eyes, especially if their eyes are irritated.

“But keep in mind that they don’t provide 100% security,” according to the post. “The virus can still reach your eyes from the exposed sides, tops and bottoms of your glasses.”

Show Sources

The Lancet, “Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

CDC, “Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control FAQs for COVID-19.”

McMaster University, “Evidence supports physical distancing, masks, and eye protection to help prevent COVID-19.”

ABC News, “Why eye protection might be a necessary precaution against COVID-19.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology, “Eye Care During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

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