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Wearing glasses, facial hair: Do these increase the risk of COVID-19 infection?

It turns out, glasses are better than contacts. As for that beard, it all depends on the mask you’re wearing.

When it comes to the fight against coronavirus, experts couldn't stress the importance of not touching your face enough.

But for those wearing glasses or if you’re a guy with a notable amount of facial hair, it might be easier said than done.

First up: Wearing spectacles. Do you have to switch to contact lenses to avoid regularly pushing these up your sweaty nose?

READ: COVID-19 news making you anxious? Heed these expert tips on how to stay calm

On the contrary, experts such as Dr Daniel Ting from the Singapore National Eye Centre are encouraging people to stick to glasses to minimise hand-to-eye contact. "Several scientific studies suggest that the virus can be possibly transmitted by contact with the surface of the eye," said the consultant with the Surgical Retina Department.

If you wear contact lenses, the chances of you touching your eyes are actually higher than non-contact lens wearers, said the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). “Substituting glasses for lenses can decrease irritation and force you to pause before touching your eye,” said Dr Sonal Tuli from the AAO.

Dr Ting added: "It is a great opportunity to give the eyes a rest when the digital screen time will significantly increase during this outbreak period".

However, there's no need to run out and get glasses or sunnies just for the circuit breaker period, said Dr Ting. It is far more effective to wear a mask and practise safe distancing, he said. 


Other than the usual wipe-down with a lint-free cloth (you are using that, aren't you?) to keep the lenses in your glasses grease-free, Dr Ting also recommended disinfecting the entire eyewear regularly with disinfectants containing at least 70 per cent alcohol or diluted household bleach (five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water). "Alternatively, you could use the commercially available disinfecting wipes or professional disinfectant spray," he said.

(Photo: iStock)

When it comes to contact lenses, "it is not necessary to further disinfect these, apart from practising good contact lens hygiene", said Dr Ting. That means washing the lenses with commercially available cleaning solutions, and avoid sharing the lenses, the case or cleaning solutions with other family members or friends.

READ: Those eyelash extensions you love wearing may have bacteria and fungi

"Cleaning the contact lens case with soap and water is a good idea. But replacing the case regularly, or wearing daily disposable lenses are even better choices," added Dr Ting.


Finally, there’s facial hair. While it is convenient for many men to forgo shaving during the circuit-breaker period (you’re not meeting anyone anyway, right?), here’s why you may want to be clean shaven. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), facial hair can interfere with the seal of your N95 mask.

The same preventative measure is echoed by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, which noted on its website that “if there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, ‘dirty’ air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs”.

It was prophetic of the CDC to create the chart below back in 2017. You have to admit, it is a rather entertaining summary of facial hair styles but more pertinent to the current situation is how the different styles can work against the use of masks.

READ: Life under quarantine: No hazmat suits but aunties and plenty of zombies

Basically, if your facial hair can be contained within the mask – that includes various styles of moustaches – you’re pretty much in the clear. But the same can’t be said of stubble, beards and Tony Stark’s goatee.

(Art: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

So, does that mean regular men can’t skip shaving at all? If you’re donning the reusable or surgical masks to make chicken rice runs, that’s not an issue because these masks don’t require a tight seal to work.

Also, having a beard or facial hair does not "trap" the virus closer to your face, said Houston-based board certified dermatologist Dr Monee Thomas on ABC News. "The beard shares much of the same flora as facial skin. Therefore, most of the same precautions we take with our face to keep it clean and healthy should also apply to the beard,” she said.

Source: CNA/bk