ARE eyeglasses a shield against the coronavirus? There is some accumulating evidence of a protective effect, but keep wearing your mask.

When researchers in China were analyzing hospital data on patients Covid-19 they noticed an odd trend : Very few of the sick patients regularly wore glasses.

In one hospital in Suizhou, China, 276 patients were admitted over a 47-day period, but only 16 patients - fewer than 6 percent - had myopia or nearsightedness that required them to wear glasses for more than eight hours a day.

By comparison, more than 30 percent of people of similar age in the region needed glasses for nearsightedness, earlier research had shown.

Given that the rate of near sightedness appeared to be so higher in the general population than in the Covid-19 ward, the scientists wondered : Could wearing glasses protect a person from becoming infected with the coronavirus?

''Wearing of eyeglasses is common among Chinese individuals of all ages,'' the study authors wrote. ''However, since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan in December 2019, we observed that few patients with eyeglasses were admitted in the hospital ward.''

The observation ''could be preliminary evidence that daily wearers of eye-glasses are less susceptible to Covid19'' the authors speculated.

Experts say its too soon to draw conclusions from the research - or to recommend that people start wearing eye protection in addition to masks in hopes of lowering their risk for infection.

It maybe that eyeglasses act as a partial barrier, protecting eyes from the splatter or a cough or sneeze. Another explanation for the finding could be that people who wear glasses are less likely to rub their eyes with contaminated hands.

A 2016 report on face touching found that over the course of an hour, a student watching a lecture could touch eyes, nose or mouth about 10 times on average, though the researchers did not look into whether wearing glasses made a difference.

The current study, published in the journal JAMA Phalmology, was accompanied by a commentary from Dr. Lisa Maragakls, an infectious-disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who urged caution in interpreting the results.

The study was small, involving fewer than 300 cases of Covid19, a tiny fraction of more than 31 million reported cases of coronavirus infection around the world.

Another concern is that the data on nearsightedness is the comparison group had been gleaned from a study that took place decades earlier.

And Dr, Maragakis noted that any number of factors could confound the data, and it may be that wearing glasses is simply associated with another variable that affects risk for Covcid-19.

For example, it could be that people who wear glasses tend to be older and more careful and more likely to stay home during a viral outbreak, than those who do not wear glasses. Or perhaps people who can afford glasses are less likely to contract the virus for other reasons, like living in less crowded spaces.

''It's one study,'' Dr. Maragakis said. ''It does have some biological plausibility, given that in health care facilities we use eye protection,'' such as face shield or googles. ''But what remains to be investigated is whether eye protection in a public setting would add any protection over and above masks and physical distancing. I think it's still unclear.'' 

The findings also raise interesting questions about how often the eyes might be entry portal for the Virus. It’s long been established that viruses and other germs can enter the facial mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth.

But the nose seems to be main entry point for coronavirus, because the nose has a high number of receptors that create a friendly environment in which the virus can replicate and move down the respiratory tract.

But doctors are seeing a small percentage of patients with eye symptoms including conjunctivitis or pink eye, which suggests the virus may also be entering the body through the eyes.

Although eye symptoms are less common than other symptoms like cough or fever, various s studies have reported that eye complaints can be a sign of a coronavirus infection.

The World Students Society thanks author Tara Parker-Pope.


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