Although the advice about minimising the spread of disease has always been the same, we have never been more aware of the need to cough or sneeze into our elbows, wash our hands thoroughly at regular intervals, dispose of tissues immediately after use and avoid touching our faces.
And while all of these actions will go a long way to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, experts are also advising us to remember our eyes, as the virus can be transmitted through tears - so as we tend to touch our faces without realising it, many of us could be unwittingly at risk.
Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr Arthur Cummings, says while masks may cover the mouth and nose, health professionals in particular should pay special attention to their eyes.
"Everyone is concerned about this and everyone is at risk because the virus can be transmitted through the tears," he says. "We tend to touch our faces and eyes a lot and, in this way, become vectors for the virus, either to transmit or receive it. Studies have shown that 1pc of coronavirus-positive patients have the virus in their tears.
"The medical specialists who are most at risk of contracting the virus are ophthalmologists, ear, nose and throat surgeons, and anaesthesiologists. This is because the virus is present in the nasal secretions, our breath in aerosol form and our tears. The very first person to become the whistle-blower on the condition in China was an ophthalmologist who unfortunately succumbed to the disease. He was the first to notice that the virus was passed on in the community. So bear in mind that people are being asked to wear eye protection in the form of masks and goggles for a reason. The face is an inverted triangle with the eyes, nose and mouth as entry points for the virus."
Dr Cummings, who is Medical Director of the Wellington Eye Clinic, says there are a number of ways in which people can minimise their risk of developing Covid-19.
"You cannot get the virus unless it enters your body via the nose, mouth or eyes," he says. "The eyes are the least common route, but glasses wearers need to clean their glasses regularly as we know that the virus can attach to hard surfaces for up to seven days. Clean the frame with alcohol wipes and wash the lenses with soap and water. Make sure that you don't rub your eyes when taking your glasses off as this is a common habit.
"Contact lens wearers should revert to wearing glasses - they are a physical protection from rubbing while you are wearing them and contact lens wearers tend to touch their faces more frequently and infections (associated with wearing contact lenses) are also a common source of emergency department admissions at eye hospitals. And at this point in the pandemic management, the HSE does not need any additional contact lens infections presenting at A&Es.
"For those who have naturally good vision or have had vision correction surgery and no longer require spectacles, all that is necessary is to take the HSE precautions and to wear protective goggles when required if your occupation requires this."
Due to the risk of the virus being transmitted through the eyes, many opticians, including Specsavers, have closed their doors to non-emergency clients until the crisis has passed.
"In support of the Government efforts to protect us all and to discourage non-essential travel, Specsavers will be closing its stores for business as usual," says optometrist and store partner Kerril Hickey. "However, we will continue to provide emergency care for those who need it. So while our doors may be closed to the public, we will continue dispensing frames, where there is a current prescription, via home delivery and post to those in need of glasses or contact lenses.
"We will also provide optical and audiology online and telephone advice for anyone who needs it in the communities we serve - frontline workers who may need Specsavers' help will be prioritised where possible."
Emergency care includes, but is not limited to, urgent clinical advice or intervention for conditions such as red eye, contact lens discomfort, foreign object in the eye, sudden change in vision, flashes and floaters which might suggest a retinal detachment, a frontline worker or an individual who is unable to work without their glasses and where a prescription that is fit for purpose isn't in existence.
Preventing the spread of the coronavirus is the most pressing health need at present, but life goes on and regular ailments are still occurring. However, with most medics focused on the crisis, we are advised to stay out of hospitals and medical centres unless absolutely necessary. And Dr Cummings says many minor eye conditions can be avoided or treated at home.
"The most common cause of a red eye is conjunctivitis and you do not need to go to the emergency services with this," he says. "If it's viral in nature it will usually involve both eyes, with a typically watery discharge and there is no specific treatment required as it will pass naturally. If there is a yellow discharge, then it's best to ring the ophthalmologist and they can prescribe an antibiotic over the phone or even better, after looking at the overall appearance of your eye using a smart phone.
"People who are familiar with herpes simplex viral keratitis (cold sore in the eye) or conditions such as uveitis, are normally very aware of what the condition is when it flares up. These patients need simply contact the ophthalmologist and, in most cases, they would be able to confirm a recurrence and a prescription for appropriate medication could be made telephonically."
The eye specialist says people with glaucoma need to continue using the drops provided by their ophthalmologist and call for a repeat prescription if necessary. If their condition worsens or if anyone experiences eye pain or loss of vision, they should seek medical advice.
"If they happen to contaminate the tip of the bottle by touching their eye accidentally, then it may make sense to replace the bottle or wipe down the tip with an alcohol swab," he says. "The key thing is not to stop the treatment. If at any point they feel that the vision is deteriorating quickly, they should again contact their ophthalmologist or an ophthalmic emergency department such as the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, the Mater Public Hospital or the regional hospitals with an eye department.
"Any sudden loss of vision would constitute an emergency as would any eye pain whether it be of sudden or slow onset or a physical or chemical injury. In the latter situation, simply rinse the eye with tap water for 20 minutes and have someone ring the emergency services to start arranging an appointment. The most important part, however, is the initial rinsing of the solution out of the eye. Also, any discharge which is green or yellow in colour and involves just one eye."
Pharmacist Oonagh O'Hagan of meagherspharmacy.ie says it is important to have a few essentials in your medicine cabinet to keep eyes healthy during this time.
"Optrex eye wash for washing, soothing and cleansing sore, tired or irritated eyes can be useful to help remove dust or other particles which can get easily trapped in the surface of your eye," she says. "Brolene eye drops or ointment is used for all minor eye infections, but if the condition doesn't improve after two days, stop using and contact a GP. And if you are prone to allergies or suffer with hayfever, I would recommend having Opticrom eye drops at home should your symptoms flare up over the next few weeks."
⬤ Follow good hygiene of the hands and face. If you need to touch your eyes, make sure you always wash your hands thoroughly immediately before.
⬤ Avoid rubbing your eyes excessively.
⬤ Maintain a high standard of hygiene with bedding, towels and clothing. Do not share face towels or face clothes with other household members.
⬤ Avoid exposure to smoke (tobacco), chemical fumes, and other irritating substances.
⬤ Replace eye cosmetics and applicators if you develop an infection.
Reducing the risk of Covid-19 entering through the eyes:
⬤ Avoid touching your eyes as much as possible. People who do wear glasses should also clean their lenses daily.
⬤ People who usually wear contact lenses should consider wearing glasses instead.
⬤ Anyone who uses eye drops regularly should consider using a disposable version that only has the daily dose. If you do happen to touch your eye with the dropper then rub the tip of the dropper with an alcowipe.
⬤ People who wear make-up should wash their hands before and after using the cream, should change their mascara regularly, and wash make-up brushes regularly.
⬤ If your eyes tend to itch, then use a tissue to rub the corner of your eye.
⬤ Everyone should look at the six steps to hand hygiene on hse.ie.
Health & Living