The Real Reason Why You Need to Be Wearing Sunglasses Amid Coronavirus

Your shades don't just block the sun. Experts say they could help protect you from COVID-19.

Some of the earliest instructions we received about avoiding coronavirus infection were to wash our hands frequently and keep them away from our faces. This is because the virus is transmitted via droplets, which infect when they enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Now that most people are wearing masks when they go out in public, they're not only putting a barrier over their nose and mouth to disrupt the virus particles they're release into the air, they're also making it less likely that they'll touch those body parts themselves. But what about your eyes? Should we all be wearing safety goggles outside? Fortunately, that's not necessary—a new study says that even your favorite sunglasses may help protect your eyes from coronavirus.

You probably don your shades on sunny days already, but a research review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet on June 1 suggests that you pop them on for cloudy weather too. "Eye protection is typically under-considered and can be effective in community settings," the study reads. Researchers found in their review that eye protection is "associated with less infection," though physical distancing and face masks had more of an impact on the spread of coronavirus.

While the evidence isn't conclusive regarding the impact of eyewear, the study's lead author, Derek Chu, MD, told ABC News, "Goggles, face shields, or even large eye glasses may be important in preventing droplet spread through the eyes, as well as self inoculation via the hands." In other words, covering your eyes may protect them from being an entry point for virus particles in the air (say, if someone not wearing a mask sneezes very close to you) and also keep you from touching your own eyes with potentially infected hands.

Young black man in sunglasses and mask in park
Shutterstock/Roman J Royce

If you've wondered whether you should be upgrading your mask to a face shield, like the kind healthcare workers wear, sunglasses—or regular eyeglasses—are a more reasonable alternative.

"Wearing a face shield is not practical, and not recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control (CDC)]," Janette Nesheiwat, MD, family and emergency doctor, tells Best Life. "It's meant to be used in a hospital or clinic setting to prevent blood splatter and bodily fluid entering the eyes during a procedure."

She goes on to say that "sunglasses, regular glasses, and goggles can be worn as an extra barrier," but notes that, "at this time, only a face covering or mask is recommended by the CDC."

Leann Poston, MD, of Invigor Medical, points out that wearing glasses could be harmful if you don't follow other guidelines. "The drawback would be if you were putting them on and taking them off with hands that may be contaminated," she says. Also, wearers should not consider them to be the perfect form of protection. "The air that seeps under the glasses may be propelled by a fan or an air conditioning vent would still reach the eyes," Poston explains.

Not only should you be handling your glasses with clean hands whenever possible, you should also be cleaning them frequently. The coronavirus can live on glass and plastic for up to a few days, so experts recommend that you wipe them down after each wear.

For more about sunny weather and the pandemic, check out Hoping Summer Will Kill Coronavirus? New Study Says We're Past That Point.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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