Face Masks & Dry Eye: What You Need to Know
With the widespread use of face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people have noticed an increase in eye dryness and irritation—even if they’ve never had a problem with dry eyes before.
Researchers1 believe the reason for this is that exhaled air is escaping from the top of the mask and drying out the thin layer of fluid on the eyes’ surface. There are things you can do, however, that can help to prevent and soothe dry eyes that may result from use of face masks.
Wear a properly fitting face mask.
The key to helping to prevent face-mask-related dry eyes is wearing a mask that fits well and is less likely to allow air to escape through the top. Use a mask with a form-fitting nose wire that you can adjust to fit your face. Adjustable ear loops can also pull the mask tighter to your skin and prevent air leakage. If you must use the mask for a long period of time, consider wearing protective eye goggles in addition to the mask or taping the top of your mask to your cheekbones with medical tape. Just be sure the tape doesn’t pull your lower eyelids and affect your ability to blink normally.
Don’t touch or rub your eyes.
Irritated eyes are tempting to rub, but don’t give in. Rubbing your eyes can actually make things worse and even scratch or injure the eye. Try blinking regularly to allow moisture to form or close your eyes for a few moments and let them rest until the urge to rub goes away.
Use lubricating eye drops.
In the July 2020 study noted below1, researchers concluded that “lubricant eye drops” and deliberate, repeated, periodic blinking may help as well.
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Take frequent breaks.
If you must wear a mask for hours at a time, try to take breaks and remove the face mask (outdoors or in a safe area), apply eye drops and let your eyes rest before putting the mask back on.
We know in some lines of work, taking breaks may not be possible, so keep eye drops handy.
Use warm compresses at home.
Once you are home and can be maskless, try lying down with a warm, wet washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes at a time to help lubricate your eyes and stimulate the glands that form an oily outer layer on tears that helps keep moisture in. 2
No matter what, please keep wearing your mask while needed during this pandemic to help keep yourself and those around you healthy and safe. If you are concerned about your eye health or are having repeated issues with dry eyes, a visit to your eye doctor is wise to rule out any serious conditions and get additional tips to help keep your eyes healthy.
1Moshirfar, Majid; West Jr., William B.; Marx, Douglas P. Face Mask-Associated Ocular Irritation and Dryness. Ophthalmol Ther 9:397-400. 2020 Jul 15. Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362770/
2Miller, K. Mask-Associated Dry Eye Is a Thing—Here's Why it Happens, and What You Can Do to Stop It. Health. 2020 Sep 03: https://www.health.com/condition/eye-health/mask-associated-dry-eye