The novel coronavirus can cause mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath that can show up 2 to 14 days after a person is exposed. What many may not know is that the new virus can also spread through the eyes.

Dr. Joseph Calderone, of Better Vision New Jersey in Cranford, said when a sick person coughs or talks, virus particles can spray from their mouth or nose into the air. Most likely a person will inhale those droplets through their own mouth or nose, but also through their eyes.

People who have the coronavirus can also spread the illness through their tears. Touching a surface where tears are present and then touching one's eyes can spread the virus.

He said a person can also become infected with COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, such as a table, doorknob, a computer mouse or a supermarket cart, then touching one's mouth, nose or the eyes.

The touching method of disease transmission is the same way someone can contract pink eye or viral conjunctivitis. Fortunately, pink eye is a very uncommon occurrence in people with coronavirus disease, said Calderone. Health officials believe viral pink eye and conjunctivitis develops in about 1% to 3% of people with the new virus.

Calderone said there are ways to protect the eyes from coronavirus. First, contact wearers should switch to glasses for a while. Wearing glasses reduces the urge to touch eyes when wearing contacts. Wearing glasses may also add a layer of protection in the presence of viral respiratory droplets from infected people.

Avoid rubbing the eyes at all costs. But if there is a need, use a tissue instead of a finger and then make sure you immediately wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.

Don't skip an eye exam if you're not sick. Ophthalmologists sit face-to face with many patients daily. During a slit-lamp exam, the doctor's face will be just a few inches away from the patient. But rest assured that these doctors follow strict hygiene and disinfection guidelines, Calderone added.

If someone has a cough or a fever, it's important to call the doctor's office ahead of time and let them know. Most likely they will tell you to stay home.

Last but not least, Calderone said it's important to stock up on critical eye medicine prescriptions including eye drops, glaucoma meds and artificial tears in case of a 14-day quarantine. If insurance allows someone to get more than a month of essential eye medicine, do it. Some insurers will approve a three month supply of medication in times of natural disaster.

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