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When COVID-19 first started spreading across the U.S., vision specialists and centers were asked to cut back to only seeing patients with urgent needs. With safety measures in place, they opened again for regular patient visits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for all health settings, including vision clinics and eye doctor’s offices, on how to safely care for patients during the pandemic. These facilities should follow CDC guidelines for staff vaccination and cleaning and sanitizing equipment and surfaces.
According to these guidelines, all doctors, staff and patients are required to wear masks during a visit. The doctor and staff giving care may also wear protective shields.
For some vision issues, you may be able to visit your doctor over the phone or online, called a virtual visit or telehealth. For instance, if you have regular check-in appointments for some conditions, your doctor may be able to check how you are managing your condition with a phone call or live video chat.
And while you can’t keep your distance during an exam, the office setting likely will have safety procedures in place throughout your visit. For example, you may be asked to wait outside until it is time for your appointment. Or the office staff may have you wait in a private exam room rather than a shared waiting area until it is time for your exam. They may space appointments between patients farther apart to allow for cleaning between patients.
An annual eye exam is recommended by health experts and is covered by health insurance at no cost by most health plans.* People with healthy eyes may wait for the pandemic to pass. But there are times that you shouldn’t wait.
Check with your eye care provider to see if you should come in person for a visit. For example if you:
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends seeing a vision specialist if you:
Your eye health is important, and putting off some vision care could lead to long-term issues. With many visits available using telehealth and new safety measures in place for office visits, the risk should be low.
The AAO has these tips for protecting your eyes during the pandemic.
Wear glasses instead of contacts. If you wear contact lenses, consider sticking to glasses for now. People with contacts tend to touch their eyes more. Glasses act as a reminder to stop if you start to touch your eye out of habit. Glasses can also act as a barrier, but they're not foolproof. If you are caring for someone with COVID, goggles are a safer way to protect your eyes.
Keep eye medicine on hand. Stock up on your prescription eye medicine so you’ll have enough to get by if supplies are limited or going to stores is restricted. Your health plan may allow you to get up to a three-month supply of prescriptions, such as glaucoma drops. Your eye doctor or pharmacist can help you request the three-month fill. Consider using home delivery or online ordering, if available.
Avoid touching your eyes. Wiping a tear away. Rubbing itchy eyes. Fixing your makeup. Many people have a habit of touching their eyes throughout the day. Try to be aware of when you touch your face.
Practice safe hygiene. If you haven’t heard it already, you haven’t been listening. Washing your hands is one of the main ways to prevent spreading COVID-19. Make sure your hands stay clean throughout the day, just in case you touch your eyes out of habit. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out contact lenses.
Want to learn more? Turn to the AAO’s Eye Smart blog for more articles about eye care during COVID-19.
Originally published August 12, 2020; Revised 2021
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