Melanie Denton Dombrowski: Important things to know about COVID and your eyes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 12, 2020

By Melanie Denton Dombrowski

Since COVID took over our lives just a couple of weeks ago, our understanding of the disease and its transmission has exploded. 

It’s a lot to keep up with, and it seems sources don’t always agree. As it pertains to the eye, I’m here to help you out. Undoubtedly, we’ll continue to learn more as time goes on but as of today, these are my best recommendations. 

• You should postpone your routine eye exam/contact lens fitting

All optometrists and ophthalmologists have been instructed by the Centers for Disease Control as well as our respective governing bodies to postpone routine vision care until this crisis has passed. But what if you’ve run out of contacts or your glasses are broken? Most offices, including mine, are able to extend your contact lens prescription for a couple of months and have contact lenses shipped directly to you at no extra charge. Broken glasses policies may vary.

• If you do have an eye emergency or think you do, call your eye doctor first.

The purpose of keeping our facilities open for urgent and emergent care is so that we can triage and treat your ocular concerns so that you won’t have to seek care at a busy hospital where you could run into a higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. We are incredibly skilled at triaging eye problems over the phone and via virtual appointments. 

• Consider wearing eye protection

Some recent evidence suggests that COVID-19 can be transmitted by respiratory aerosols, which are even smaller than “droplets.” Because aerosols are so small, they can remain in the air and come into contact with your eyes, nose or mouth causing you to become infected. Additionally, your tears do drain into the back of your throat and mouth, another good reason to prevent the virus from coming into contact with the eyes. It’s important to follow the CDC guidelines and wear a mask in public, but I would strongly consider eye protection with a mask as well. 

• Yes, COVID-19 can cause “pink eye.”

There are documented cases of “follicular conjunctivitis” — the fancy term for “pink eye” — as the presenting illness in COVID-19 infection. Viral conjunctivitis is simply an infection in the white part of the eye plus the inner side of the eyelids. It typically feels irritated or even painful, causes your eye to get quite red and there may be some watering as well. If this occurs, use artificial tears, cool compresses and be careful to wash your hands and all linens to avoid spreading the infection from one eye to the other. Call right away in that case for an assessment of your pink eye virtually and instructions regarding treatment. Even if you’re COVID-19 positive and having trouble, we can talk with you virtually and even do a limited evaluation of your eyes. All you need is a cell phone and an internet connection and you can see your doctor. Isn’t that amazing?

 • Glasses and contact lens hygiene is so important 

Most of us think about contact lenses immediately since you directly touch your eye in order to insert and remove them. It’s true; if you’re a contact lens wearer, please take special care to wash your hands completely before inserting and after removing. Additionally, if you wear glasses, remember that many people tend to touch them throughout the day. Clean your glasses thoroughly with dish soap and water to remove virus particles — just make sure to do it for at least 20 seconds! 

Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has impacted my work as an optometrist substantially.

It  feels like my entire life changed in just a few days. We’ve postponed all routine care at our office until after this crisis is over and we continue to remain open for urgent and emergent office visits and vision emergencies. We’ve quickly adapted to provide new types of care like virtual visits and shipping contacts and glasses to our patients, which we’re really excited about offering. I’m even designing our own online store to make our optical more accessible to our patients. 

But more than anything, communication and education is important throughout this pandemic: making sure my community has accurate and reliable information with which to guide their decision making.  

Stay well, stay at home and wash those hands!

Dr. Melanie Denton Dombrowski practices medical optometry at her office, Salisbury Eyecare and Eyewear, in downtown Salisbury. Email her at