For most people who work outside a medical setting, the idea of wearing a face mask for hours on end was until recently a novel idea. Most have made their peace with the use of face coverings to reduce COVID-19 risks, while others are discovering this personal protective equipment (PPE) comes with an occasional side effect of its own: dry eyes.
Masks are made to reduce the flow of particles to and from your mouth and nose. Unfortunately, this also functions to channel breath over and under the edge of the mask toward the eyes. If you wear glasses, you probably see unmistakable evidence of it daily in the form of foggy eyeglasses. It makes sense that if enough air is escaping your mask to fog your lenses, it’s also hitting your vulnerable eyes.
This air leakage can lead to dry eyes or worsen an existing condition. Many of the symptoms of dry eye are what one might expect:
- Gritty feeling in eyes
- Inadequate tears
But dry eye disease can also cause blurry vision, which is often mistaken for other eye changes, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or a foreign object in the eye. The missed self-diagnosis can “mask” the real problem and lead to needless suffering.*
To reduce your risk of dry eyes, we recommend implementing the guidelines below. Just remember the acronym M.A.S.K.S.
Mask fit. Make sure your mask fits flush against your face so exhaled breath doesn’t escape into your eyes. The surest way to get the perfect fit is to use a mask that has a bendable strip that can be contoured over the nose and cheeks.
Ask for a break. When it’s safe to do so, remove your mask to reduce your dry eye risk. Just maintain social distancing and wash your hands frequently.
Stare elsewhere. The combination of constant mask-wearing and increased screen time is a double-whammy for those vulnerable to dry eye disease. Not only is the mask diverting air onto the eyes, but office workers and students are blinking less as they stare at their computer monitors. Give your eyes a break by turning your gaze to something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
Keep eyes lubricated. Give those peepers a little extra love on days when you can’t avoid the mask. Our doctors recommend using preservative-free artificial tears throughout the day to soothe the irritation of dry eyes.
Stop rubbing. Eye-rubbing is never a good idea, even under the best of circumstances. It can cause tiny abrasions on the eye that can worsen irritation, redness and blurry vision.
Just a few small changes could make a huge difference in our eye comfort in the COVID era! *Matossian Eye Associates has a talented team of multidisciplinary specialists who can provide a thorough eye examination and accurate diagnosis to address dry eye discomfort and visual disturbances. If you experience either, schedule an appointment with one of our eye doctors by calling (800) 708-8800 or through our website, MatossianEye.com.