While the use of masks protects us from potential exposure to COVID-19, it has caused an unexpected increase in ocular irritation and dry eyes. Recent research reports an increase in symptoms of dry-eyes for mask wearers. Dry eyes were reported in individuals who’ve prior experience of dry eyes and those who don’t.
Research found that patients with ocular issues describe a worsening in symptoms assessed in the Ocular Surface Disease Index. Ophthalmologists detected a decrease in corneal staining and an increase in eye dryness for post-operative cataract patients.
It has been theorized that airflow issues cause mask-induced eye dryness. When your mask isn’t tightly fit, the air you breathe out can move up across your eyes. This prompts evaporation and ultimately, can dry out your eyes.
However, those wearing taped masks (for a tighter fit) also report eye problems. This may actually be the result of the tape interfering with the function of the lower lid. While a mask reduces the transmission of COVID-19 through the mouth and nose, the eyes remain vulnerable to potential infection.
This vulnerability is increased by mask irritation. The eye’s tear film is essential in fighting pathogens; with mask use increasing evaporation, the ability of the eye to fight bacteria and viruses is compromised.
Tips for Eye Protection
Is there a way to fix this, or at the very least, alleviate ocular symptoms? Optometrists suggest several ways to take action against dry eyes and ocular irritation:
1. Ensure That Your Mask Fits Well
Wear a mask with a nose bridge that molds to your face and has adjustable loops. This will ensure a tight, secure fit.
Another way to do this is by rolling up tissue and tucking it under the top of your mask. This will prevent air from escaping and evaporating.
You can also seal the mask over your nose with medical tape. Use the correct tape to prevent skin and lower lid irritation.
2. Lubricate Your Eyes
At night, use a hot compress over your eyes to stimulate the meibomian gland, which is a tiny oil gland at the margin of the eyelid that keeps tears from evaporating.
The hot compress will push out more oil, and with more oil in your tears, the evaporation rate will decrease.
3. Invest In Sealed Goggles or Scleral Contact Lenses
If you have severe or chronic dry eyes, investing in moisture chamber spectacles or scleral contact lenses may be the best option.
Moisture chamber spectacles create a seal around your eyes and insulate them from eye-drying factors, like air or wind. If they fit correctly, they can keep moisture and the virus out.
Another option is scleral contact lenses. Scleral contact lenses are fluid-filled, gas-permeable lenses that encase the eyes in a fluid. The fluid provides consistent moisture and may correct vision.
These products are an investment and come at a high price. It’s recommended to check with your vision insurance for options that best suit your needs.
Should the Mask Stay or Go?
Is it worth it to wear a mask because you may have to struggle with eye irritation? Certainly! Masks will be around for a long time. They, along with social distancing and hygiene interventions will be necessary for a while.
Wearing a mask is essential for the prevention of COVID-19 and for lowering the curve, but that doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable. These suggestions can make mask-wearing an easier experience for your eyes, and the only thing you’ll have to worry about is “maskne.”