Viruses are responsible for many infections, such as the flu, the common cold, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and coronavirus. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in full-swing, it's important to be aware of good hygiene practices, especially for the eyes, as they are a portal for infectious diseases. By implementing the practices below, you can significantly reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting a viral infection.
What Is a Virus?
A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that reproduces itself by invading a host cell, replicating its DNA inside it. This infected cell then replicates rapidly, spreading millions of new viral cells throughout the body. Once infected, we feel sick and experience the unpleasant side effects of rising temperature, sore limbs and other symptoms as our immune system recognizes the virus as being foreign and vigorously fights against it.
How Does a Virus Travel Between Organisms?
For a virus to cause disease, it must first enter a body, called a target host. A target host can get infected directly, via infected droplets (such as when kissing), or indirectly, when coming into contact with droplets from a cough, sneeze, or tears left on a surface. Infected droplets enter the body through one of the mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth.
Even if the infected person shows no symptoms, they can still be contagious. Depending on the virus, it can survive on a surface for some time and can be picked up from a doorknob or an elevator button. This is why practicing good hygiene is an effective way to prevent indirect viral transmission.
4 Crucial Eye Hygiene Practices
By implementing the following hygiene practices, you will better protect yourself and others from viral infection.
1. Routinely wash your hands
We, humans, touch many surfaces throughout the day. If we're not careful, we can catch an infection, particularly from hard surfaces like plastic and stainless steel.
Viruses can also be picked up while preparing and eating food; using the toilet; or handling an animal. Make sure that you regularly and thoroughly wash your hands, ideally for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water, to kill viruses (and bacteria) on the surface of your skin. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Keep your hands off your face
Studies show that the average person touches their face up to 23 times per hour, and that the majority of contacts involve the eyes, nose and mouth. Doing so puts you at risk for getting a virus or transmitting the virus to another. Try to be conscious and avoid touching your face whenever possible.
3. Avoid rubbing your eyes
Rubbing your eyes is an instinctual response to tiredness or itchy eyes. It feels great to rub your eyes because doing so stimulates tear production, temporarily relieves itchiness, lubricates the eyes, and removes irritants. However, if your hands are unwashed, rubbing your eyes can put you at risk of contracting an infection, such as conjunctivitis or coronavirus. In fact, conjunctivitis has been linked to respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19.
4. Use makeup with caution
Given the information provided above regarding infections, the following advice should come as no surprise:
- Don't share your makeup with anyone else, whether for eyes, lips or face.
- Don't use a cosmetic brush previously used by another when testing makeup products. Instead, request single-use applicators and wands.
- Don't use a product past its expiration date.
- Don't use the same makeup products after you've been sick or have had an eye infection.
- Don't share face cloths or face towels with anyone else.
The Center for Vision Development at Austin is committed to helping you manage your long-term eye health. From all of us at The Center for Vision Development, please stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones.