The surprising link between wearing glasses and coronavirus

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At the beginning of the pandemic, every time I went to the grocery store — which was only the health official recommended once a month — I would put rubber gloves over my scrubbed raw hands, don my homemade mask, pull up my hood, and wear sunglasses. Yes, sunglasses. Yes, even indoors. My theory was that if less of me was exposed to the world, it was less likely that coronavirus would seep in. I may have looked kind of crazy, but it turns out that I wasn’t totally off base, at least about the sunglasses. Research suggests that people who wear glasses are less likely to get COVID-19.

A new study from India was released last week on medRxiv that people who wear glasses may be 2 to 3 times less likely to contract coronavirus. That’s giant. It’s important to note that while wearing glasses in addition to a mask could increase protection, it’s still the mask that’s the MVP here. Wearing one makes it about 65% less likely to get infected. Yes, I know that the combination of glasses and masks creates some really annoying fogginess, but it may be worth it.

While wearing glasses may be correlated with lower infection rates, that’s not because glasses are particularly effective at combating respiratory infections or that they have some special magical quality . It turns out that people who wear glasses are less likely to rub their eyes and therefore less likely to catch COVID-19, The Independent reported. According to the report, “Touching and rubbing of the eyes with contaminated hands may be a significant route of infection.”

It’s worth noting that this study hasn’t been peer reviewed and some of the comments on medRxix indicate that some other researchers feel conflicted about recommending that people wear glasses as a way of protecting themselves against COVID-19. But, it’s also worth noting that this is not the only research that shows a correlation between glasses and low COVID-19 infection rates.

Other scientists have been looking into the effect of glasses wearing on infection rates for a while. Back in September, researchers in China published a paper in Journal of American Medical Association Ophthalmology — which was peer reviewed — which showed that people who wore glasses were 5 times less likely to get sick with COVID-19 than individuals who did not. Experts at the time said it was too soon to draw conclusions from the research, and it’s probably still too soon.

The truth is that even though we’ve learned a lot about the virus in the past year, there’s still a lot we don’t know. It’s tempting to believe anything that could possibly stop the spread of infection, but if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that pseudoscience will not save us. Not only that, some of it can be dangerous. Wearing glasses, though, while not exactly a clinically proven protection strategy, isn’t risky at all. Plus it gives me an excuse to go incognito in sunglasses to my heart’s delight.