Coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has brought medical experts out of the woodwork. Suddenly, everyone from the family physician to the epidemiology expert has an opinion. Furthermore, there are as many questions as there are answers. One of the stranger questions people were asking over the summer is whether or not sunglasses can protect you from COVID-19.
In a word, no. Like most other viruses, coronavirus is airborne. This is why experts recommend wearing face coverings. A face covering supposedly prevents someone infected with coronavirus from spreading it to someone else via respiratory droplets. Simply put, you do not want to pass the virus through the air to someone else.
Sunglasses do nothing to prevent respiratory droplets. They do not prevent you from exhaling them; they do not prevent someone else from inhaling them. The fact that sunglasses rest on the nose disqualifies them from influencing respiration in any way.
Coronavirus and the Eyes
The confusion over sunglasses and COVID-19 is probably related to a number of studies suggesting the remote possibility of coronavirus entering a person’s system through the eyes. However, some things must be taken into account:
- None of the studies done this past spring and summer were conclusive
- Studies done in the fall suggest the risk is not as great as previously thought
- When the risk is present, it is related to touching the eyes, not breathing.
This final point is critical. Remember that coronavirus is transmitted mainly by respiratory droplets. In order to be infected through the eyes, you would have to touch or rub your eyes with already infected hands. Therein is the issue. Sunglasses do not prevent you from rubbing your eyes.
Protection with Goggles
If it is possible to catch coronavirus through the eyes, it’s not probable. The only way to protect yourself against such an infection is to wear goggles that both keep out respiratory droplets and stop you from touching or rubbing your eyes.
Something like swimming goggles would do the trick. So would ski goggles, safety goggles, and even dive masks. But it is a safe bet that Americans are not going to start walking around wearing such devices. The risk is too low to justify doing so.
Getting back to sunglasses, Salt Lake City’s Olympic Eyewear does say that you can’t go wrong by regularly cleaning and sanitizing your shades. If you are at all concerned that your sunglasses have been exposed to the respiratory droplets of an infected person, do not hesitate to immediately take them off and wash them with warm soapy water. Wash your hands at the same time.
Eye Protection Only
The best way to summarize this whole discussion is to remind readers that sunglasses offer eye protection only. And by that, we mean protection against direct sunlight and UV rays. That is their purpose. The UV layer embedded in a pair of modern sunglasses filters out the dangerous rays known to cause problems. Tinting and polarization address issues related to direct sunlight.
Sunglasses will not prevent respiratory droplets from reaching your eyes. There is too much open space between sunglasses and your face. But don’t panic. The likelihood of you catching coronavirus through the eyes is not great. If you are concerned, just make a practice of regularly washing your hands and not touching your eyes.
As a side note, your sunglasses may fog up when you wear them with a mask. This is normal. It may become a problem as temperatures get colder, so be prepared for it. An anti-fog product for automotive glass might work to keep your sunglasses clear this winter.