As our country continues the fight against COVID-19, we know that wearing a mask is important. And while proper face coverings may help protect us from the virus, it’s possibly causing a different problem: Dry Eye.
“We’re seeing an increase in complaints of dry eye symptoms in individuals who are regularly wearing masks or face coverings for prolonged periods,” says Dr. Jennifer Wagh, a ReFocus Eye Health doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of dry eyes.
According to Dr. Wagh, and countless other eye health experts, “Continuing to wear masks or face coverings is an important responsibility we all have in our global efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. As such, as eye health experts, we are encouraging people to be aware of how wearing masks can impact their eye health, what symptoms of eye problems should not be ignored, and what can be done to keep eyes healthy during the global pandemic.”
How can face masks trigger dry eye symptoms?
Even people who have never exhibited dry eye symptoms previously may be prone to developing them if wearing a mask regularly for long periods of time.
“Mask-associated dry eye” is a new condition, according to a recent study done by researchers at the University of Utah. Because it is new, there’s not yet scientific literature to support the understanding of the cause. However, it is theorized that mask-related dry eye is caused by an airflow issue or interference with the lower eyelids’ ability to function properly.
For example, when a mask improperly or loosely fits over the bridge of the nose, air from exhalation can flow upwards towards the eyes and dry them out. Alternatively, a tight-fitting mask may pull down on and interfere with the lower eyelids, causing irregular blinking that is unable to restore moisture to the eye.
How do I know if I’m having mask-related dry eye symptoms?
Common symptoms of dry eye include:
• Burning sensation
• Itchy eyes
• Heavy eyes
• Fatigued eyes
• Sore eyes
• Dryness/“grit in eye” sensation
• Light sensitivity
• Blurred vision
How can we keep our eyes healthy while wearing a face mask?
Make sure your mask fits properly – not too tight, not too loose. Choose masks that have a nose bridge that can be shaped to your face and adjustable straps.
Help relieve symptoms at the end of each day with hot compresses on your eyes. Laying a warm, wet washcloth on your eyes for a few minutes at the end of each day can help trigger oil secretion from eye glands. This oil can help replenish wetness and combat further moisture evaporation.
Apply lubricating eye drops a few times throughout the day. This is a safe way to get temporary relief from symptoms.
Speak with your eye doctor if you believe you’re suffering from mask-related dry eye. While it’s necessary that we all continue to wear masks at this time, it is not necessary for you to suffer! Your eye doctor can evaluate your condition and recommend personalized treatment options for you.