We are all well aware of the importance of wearing face coverings at the present time. However, while wearing a mask is a crucial part of preventing the spread of diseases like COVID-19, doing so can have a number of side effects. If you have found that your eyes feel much drier and stiffer since you started wearing a mask you aren’t alone. Dry eyes are now one of the most commonly reported effects of mask-wearing. Why does this happen and is there anything you can do to prevent it? Read on to find out.
What is dry eye?
Dry eye, also known as dry eye syndrome or dry eye disease, is a fairly common condition that occurs when the amount or quality of the tear film that you produce to lubricate your eyes is insufficient. This usually happens if there’s a problem with any of the components of your tear film (oil, water and proteins) causing imbalances or blockages. It can also be caused by the fluid evaporating or draining from the surface of the eyes too quickly.
Dry eye causes a range of symptoms, including:
Sensitivity to light
Scratchy, itchy or irritated feeling in the eyes
Redness of the eyes
Stinging or burning eyes
Eyes feel tight
Although not usually serious, these symptoms can affect the patient’s quality of life and make some day to day tasks harder than they need to be.
Why does wearing a mask cause dry eye?
Mask wearing may be new to the majority of the public, but those who work in clinical environments or in other roles requiring the use of PPE are well used to the effects it can have. Experts are still trying to establish a firm reason why masks cause dry eyes, but there are number of theories in circulation.
The first is that mask-related dry eye is caused by issues with the way that the carbon dioxide we exhale travels out of the mask. Unless your mask fits very closely to the contours of your face, much of this gas travels upwards and out of the top of your mask where it comes into contact with the eyes. When this happens, the warm breath encourages evaporation, causing the surface of the eyes to dry out more quickly. Another theory is that mask-related dry eye is caused by interference with the lower eyelids, triggered either by the mask sitting high on the cheekbones and interfering with the lower eyelids and the glands that are responsible for creating tear film.
Alleviating dry eye caused by mask wearing
Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of dry eye that could be caused by wearing a mask. These include the following:
Make sure your mask fits well. Choose a mask with a nose bridge that is flexible and can be molded to fit the contours of your face and has adjustable ear loops. If necessary, you can use surgical tape to close any gaps through which air might be escaping (and germs may be entering).
Use warm compresses on your eyes. When you don’t need to wear a mask, you could rest your eyes and use warm compresses on them – a washcloth soaked in hot water and wrung out or a heat mask will work. This warmth will stimulate the glands responsible for creating the oil in tear film, as well as eliminating any blockages that may have occurred and be preventing sufficient oil from being included in tear film.
Use artificial tears. Artificial tears are exactly what their name suggests, lubrication that is designed to replicate natural tear film and is placed onto the surface of the eyes via a dropper to keep them moist and comfortable. Lubricating eye drops can usually be administered several times each day as needed.
If you are concerned that wearing a mask might be causing you to experience issues with your eyes and you would like further advice, please call Clarke EyeCare Center at 940-905-0700, and our team would be happy to answer any questions you have or schedule an appointment.