Skip to main content

Stop Touching or Rubbing Your Eyes to Reduce Risk of COVID-19 Infection

Apr 12, 2020

This information was accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some information may have changed since the original publication date.

 Most of us have heard the warnings from health experts to keep our hands away from our mouth and nose to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The same goes for touching or rubbing your eyes.

Eye doctors have always advised against rubbing your eyes. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it's critical. It can be hard to break this natural habit, but knowing that it can lower your risk of coronavirus infection offers a great incentive for everyone.

Why Touching Your Eyes Can Be Dangerous

When a sick person coughs or talks, they can release virus droplets from their mouth, right into another person's face.

You're most likely to inhale these droplets through mucous membranes in your mouth or nose. But the droplets can also enter through the membranes protecting your eyes—specifically the conjunctiva, a thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.

That means the virus can be spread if someone rubs an infected eye and then touches someone else—or even during an eye examination.

Currently, ophthalmologists and optometrists, including those at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, are only scheduling in-person appointments necessary to save eyesight and are taking extraordinary steps to keep patients safe using protective equipment to avoid such contact.

If you wear contact lenses, it's also important to note that you may touch your eyes more than the average person.

"Touching your eyes and face can increase chances of infection," according to Moran contact lens specialist, David Meyer, OD.

His advice?

"If you feel uncomfortable wearing contact lenses, try switching to glasses for a while. They may provide a barrier to keep you from touching your eyes."

How to Stop Rubbing Your Eyes

Meyer advises following these best practices for hygiene:

  • If you feel an urge to itch or rub your eye, or even to adjust your glasses, use a tissue instead of your fingers.
  • Dry eyes can lead to more rubbing, so consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine.
  • If you must touch your eyes for any reason—even to administer eye medicine—wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.