When Chelsea complained of irritation, eye discomfort, and a stinging sensation in her eye, her eye doctor knew exactly what he was dealing with: another case of dry-eye syndrome.
But what didn't add up was that Chelsea has been going for eye checks for over ten years, and not once had she shown any symptoms of the condition.
But as the doctor examined Chelsea, who was wearing a face mask, he realized that Chelsea's sudden onset of eye dryness is a sign of "mask-associated dry eye," — an emerging condition amid the coronavirus pandemic that eye specialists are warning about.
Dry Eyes and How Masks Come Into Play
Dry eye is a common eye condition that is caused by insufficient moisture in the eyes. The symptoms of dry eyes manifest when a person's eye is unable to produce enough lubrication. The natural moisture for lubricating the eye is tears, and dry eyes can occur when the tear ducts aren't producing enough tears.
Another common cause of dry eyes is increased tear evaporation caused by wind, allergies, or the preservatives added to eye drops.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
How can you tell when you have dry eyes? The symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Blurry vision
- Irritable eyes
- Inability/difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Inability to drive at night
- The feeling of having something in the eyes
- Stinging sensation in the eyes
- Scratchy or itchy sensation in the eye
- Redness of the eye
- Stringy mucus in the eye
- Watery eyes
- Pain in the eye
How Masks Cause Dry Eyes
In recent months, some eye-care specialists have reported a rise in patients — both who wear glasses and those who don't — asking why their eyes feel drier than normal, particularly while wearing masks.
Could there be a link between the mask we wear to protect ourselves and the dry eye symptoms affecting many people? Optometrists believe so.
Eye dryness associated with masks, which has been the subject of a recently published paper, is probably triggered by air exhaled from breathing going out the top of the mask and circulating over the eyes' surface. The upward flow of air dries out the tear film and speeds up evaporation.
How to Protect Your Eyes While Wearing Masks?
Dry eyes caused by face coverings is an "accelerant" for symptoms, especially in people who have the condition or have a greater chance of developing dry eye. An at-risk group would be individuals who spend plenty of time staring at screens or those who have been working from home for months.
Research shows that when people stare at mobile devices or computers, they fail to blink or blink less often, resulting in dry or irritated eyes.
And when you add a face mask on top of that work hazard at the computer when you're not even staring at the computer, your eyes would feel pretty irritated.
While you can't stop wearing your mask out of fear that it might irritate your eyes, you can take some steps to avoid that uncomfortable feeling. Here's what we recommend:
- Wear masks that fit well
Medical masks have nose wires that can be sculpted along the nose bridge for a better fit. This will plug any openings for air to pass through to the eye.
- Spend less time staring at digital screens
It is vital to pay attention to your eyes and remain committed to treating any symptoms. You can ease dryness by following this simple 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes for 20 seconds, take a break and look 20 feet away from your screen.