How Your Eye Doctor Keeps You Safe From Infections


Eyecare professionals have an obligation to protect patients and staff from infection. In an ophthalmic practice, infections can be happen through direct contact, airborne transmission, or from contaminated equipment or instruments used in the practice.


Fortunately, there are many precautions your eyecare practice takes to keep you safe from infections. We’ll help you understand the steps, so you feel confident during your next visit.


Step 1 – Handwashing

Handwashing, using antimicrobial soap, is the most important measure in preventing the spread of infection in any health care setting.

Many eye diseases are transmitted by manual contact, so it’s the responsibility of all health care professionals to practice effective handwashing both before and after patient contact.

When using an alcohol-based hand rub, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that it has at least 60 percent alcohol. They also note that hands should be rubbed until dry, ensuring the entire skin surface of the hands and fingers are covered.


Step 2 – Personal Protective Equipment

When there’s potential for contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials, eyecare professionals use appropriate barrier precautions. This could include powder-free surgical gloves, safety glasses, or face shields. Surgical masks are also important if the eyecare professional or patient has a cold or influenza.

If it’s necessary to handle the eyelids or surrounding facial tissue during an exam, your eyecare professional will minimize tissue contact by using gloves or cotton-tipped applicators. In addition, technicians should ensure that bottle tips never touch the patient’s eyes or the technician’s hands.

It all comes down to this -- the less contact, the less opportunity for infection.


Step 3 – Instrument Disinfection and Sterilization

Whenever possible, your eyecare practice uses single-use instruments and equipment to prevent infection. All reusable instruments are cleaned immediately and then disinfected or sterilized, depending on their intended use.

Before we talk about how your eye doctor maintains clean instruments, let’s clarify some of the terminology. According to Optometry Times, there are three infection control procedures:

  • Cleaning is the removal of foreign material with water, detergents, or enzymatic products. This is essential because dried mucus, tears, tissue, or cosmetics could contain concentrations of infectious organisms.

  • Disinfection refers to inactivating all pathogenic microbes but not necessarily all microorganisms. Disinfection is accomplished using thermal (heat and water) or chemical methods.
  • Sterilization eliminates all viable microorganisms, including bacterial spores. Sterilization usually requires a process called autoclaving, when the instrument is exposed to high temperature and pressure.

Since tonometer probes, used to assess glaucoma, are the most common item in the exam room that contacts the cornea and tears of patients, the Joint Commission brought up concerns about disinfection of tonometer tips. In response, the Icare IC100 tonometer was developed to exceed the commission’s compliance requirements. It features the first disposable tip. Plus, the disposable probe is gamma-irradiated, making it sterile.


Step 4 – Hazardous Waste Disposal

Your eyecare practice will place all disposable items (that came in contact with patients) in appropriate infectious waste containers for disposal. Syringes, needles, and other sharp items must be discarded in clearly labeled, puncture-proof containers. There are special collection services to dispose of infectious waste and sharps containers.


Step 5 – Exam Room and Practice Disinfection

Finally, the exam room and all surfaces should be regularly disinfected. Whenever the patient comes into contact with examining equipment, your eyecare professional will wipe the counter surfaces and areas with isopropyl alcohol tissues, 30 percent alcohol solution, or sodium hypochlorite solution.

But disinfection isn’t just limited to the exam room. Infection control also includes regular and effective cleaning of all areas of the practice, including keyboards, desks, office chairs, rest rooms, and any other surfaces.


As you can see from these robust procedures, when your eyecare practice adopts these universal infection control precautions, you’re at extremely low risk of contracting infections. For more information check out this article from the American Academy of Opthalmology:  Guidelines for the Cleaning and Sterilization of Intraocular Surgical Instruments.