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When a pandemic breaks out, the topic of infection control becomes important to every layer of society. At the individual, communal, national and international levels, measures are put in place to prevent further spread of the disease, such as is the case with the COVID-19 virus.
Protection equipment exists for all kinds of purposes, and one that’s as important as covering the nose and mouth is eye protection.
What is eye protection?
Eye protection includes all pieces of equipment intended to limit the risk of hazardous or infectious materials or particles entering the eye. It’s often referred to as safety glasses, safety goggles or protective eyewear/glasses. Eye protection is a standard component of personal protection equipment (PPE) in a number of professions.
It’s used by construction workers, healthcare professionals, researchers, educators and students alike. The equipment comes in a number of different kinds, and we’ll take a look at the difference between particularly safety glasses and goggles below. In the context of medicine and infection control, eye protection keeps diseases from spreading – several bacteria and viruses can enter the body through ocular exposure.
What types of safety glasses are there?
Safety glasses are a kind of equipment used for general protection of the eyes. They’re made of plastic, and are fitted either like regular glasses behind the ears or with a rubber band. The tighter the fit of the safety glasses, the more protection they offer.
These glasses provide what’s referred to as impact protection, meaning they protect the eyes from materials that are projected directly at the wearers face. However, they’re not effective as protection from droplets, splashes or particles, and so they’re not recommended to be used in highly infectious or hazardous environments. The CDC in the US presses that safety glasses should not be worn for infection control purposes.
What types of safety goggles are there?
Safety goggles are substantially more protective than safety glasses. They come in either directly-vented, indirectly-vented or non-vented varieties, meaning some of them ‘breathe’, while others don’t. Safety goggles are the recommended eye protection for medical purposes or as an infection control measure.
A non-vented safety goggle is the safest type of this equipment, because it ensures no splash, droplet or spray enters the eye area. The indirectly-vented and directly-vented varieties, however, may allow bacteria or viruses to enter. A safety goggle is most vulnerable in the area from the corners of the eye to the eyebrow, which is also where it should be most tightly fitted.
It’s important to note that safety goggles do not protect from splash or droplets to the rest of the face, which is why they are often combined with other protective equipment. This is particularly important in environments that contain infectious materials or particles, such as in medical research contexts.
Who needs eye protection for infection control?
Eye protection, either in the form of safety glasses or safety goggles, is the recommended standard for professionals working in environments where there is the potential for damage to or infection of the eyes. During a pandemic, it’s used by healthcare workers who are in contact with suspected or confirmed cases of the disease being spread. This is to limit the risk of that bacteria or virus reaching the eyes of the wearer and so spreading at a faster rate.
As personal protective equipment in non-medical contexts, eye protection is not recommended. Safety glasses or safety goggles are only necessary as a measure when there is a high risk of the wearer coming into contact with infectious droplets, either via splash or spray. This means that at the personal level, it’s more effective to be conscious of distancing and personal hygiene (particularly washing your hands) than to use eye protection. This is also to ensure that the demand for the equipment doesn’t cause a shortage for health services.
Eye protection during the coronavirus outbreak
The coronavirus is still a new disease, but the WHO’s official statement is that it spreads via droplets from an infected person that non-infected people then come into contact with. Due to this, healthcare workers taking care of patients suspected of or confirmed with COVID-19 should always wear eye protection as part of their PPE efforts. It is emphasised that either goggles or face shields should be used.
At the individual level, in non-medical contexts, eye protection like safety goggles or safety glasses is not necessary. Instead, everyone is urged to be careful with other infection control measures. These include self-isolation when symptomatic, keeping social distance at a safe level, and strict personal hygiene, particularly with regular hand washes.
The coronavirus outbreak has put health services across the globe under enormous pressure, and there is currently a shortage of equipment, particularly in countries with a high number of critical cases. Therefore, it’s important that PPE intended for healthcare workers is not used excessively by the general public.