Wearing face coverings and masks are important for helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, however new reports show that people who wear them regularly are more likely to report having dry eye symptoms.1 Experts are calling this new condition mask-associated dry eyes (MADE). Below, our experts will explain what causes dry eyes when wearing a face mask, and share their top tips for relieving the symptoms.

What is mask-associated dry eye?

Recent research has found a corresponding increase in ‘ocular irritation and dryness’ among people who wear face masks regularly.1 Health experts have begun to call this condition mask-associated dry eye (MADE), and those who wear masks for longer periods of time may be more likely to experience these symptoms.

How can wearing face masks or coverings cause dry eyes?

It’s widely thought that the limited airflow and ventilation within a face mask is the main cause of mask-associated dry eyes. If your mask (or face covering) does not fit tightly to your face, when you breathe out, air can escape out of the top of your mask and across the surface of your eyes.1 (This is the same process that causes glasses lenses to fog-up while wearing a mask). This increased flow of warmer air close to your eyes could cause your tears to evaporate more quickly, leaving your eyes feeling dry, irritated or less lubricated. If you wear contact lenses and already experience dry eyes, you might notice that this becomes worse as a result.

It is also important to recognise that it’s not just air flow that may cause eye dryness and irritation. Those using tape to secure their masks to their face may also be more likely to report dry eye symptoms because tape that is applied too tightly to the upper cheek may pull down on the lower eyelid and cause further irritation.

Mask-associated dry eyes can then become a vicious cycle, as you may be more prone to rubbing your eyes to get some relief from these symptoms. However, it’s important to continue following NHS guidance and avoid touching your face and eyes in order to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

If your mask has been causing dry eyes, they may become sore and red as a result. It’s important not to confuse these symptoms with red/pink eye (conjunctivitis), which has been reported in some cases as a symptom of COVID-19, although usually not without other symptoms. If you’re ever worried about your symptoms, it’s important to contact your GP or an NHS helpline for further support. You can also find out more about the link between coronavirus and conjunctivitis here.

Top tips for preventing dry eyes while wearing a face mask

It’s still important to wear face masks and coverings where needed (even if you are experiencing dry eyes) in order to keep yourself and others safe — but that doesn't mean they should be uncomfortable. To help, our experts share their top tips for dry eye relief while wearing your face mask. Just be sure to test them out while you’re at home to avoid touching your face in public.

1. Mask sure your mask fits correctly

This is the simplest but most important tip. If your mask or covering is loose or does not fit to your face correctly, then not only will it be letting air escape from the top, but it also won’t be very effective at protecting you or those around you. 

Where possible, you should adjust the ear loops of the mask so that it fits nice and snug to your face. Also, if you can, pinch and adjust the nosepiece so it mirrors the bridge of your nose — ensuring the mask fits closely to your upper cheeks. If you want to use a small piece of tape to secure the top of your mask, ensure that it is not stuck too tightly to your cheeks, as this can tug down on your lower eyelid, causing further irritation. 

2. Limit your time in drying environments 

If your eyes are already feeling dry from your mask, try to limit your time in dry-air or windy environments to help protect your eyes. This includes air-conditioned offices and windy outdoor weather which will be more likely to dry your eyes quicker.

Equally, prolonged periods of looking at digital screens may bring on digital eye strain symptoms, which can cause your eyes to become sorer. We recommend taking regular breaks from digital screens to help prevent this. 

3. Soothe your eyes with a warm compress

If your eyes are sore and irritated, try dampening a wash cloth or flannel with warm water and placing it on your closed eyelids for a few minutes — many people choose to do this when they are going to bed. The warmth of the water can help stimulate your tear glands in the eyelids to produce more liquid and oil (which are natural components of tears) to help keep your eye lubricated throughout the day.

4. Use lubricating eye drops

You may also want to try using eye drops if your eyes are becoming particularly dry throughout the day. Eye drops can help provide the extra lubrication to prevent your eyes from becoming dry. It’s important to be careful when touching your eyes, so make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly before administering them. If you’re unsure about which drops might be right for your eyes, your optician can advise you on the best choice.

5. Speak to your optician 

If you’d like some further advice on how to soothe dry eyes at this time, just speak to your local optician. They’ll be able to guide you on some safe and simple ways to care for your eyes at this time. For more information about keeping your eyes healthy, visit our COVID-19 Care hub.

References

1. Moshirfar, Majid., West Jr., William B., and Marx, Douglas P., ‘Face Mask-Associated Ocular Irritation and Dryness’, Ophthalmology and Therapy, 9, 397-400. (2020). [online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40123-020-00282-6 [accessed 11/9/2020]

2. Centre of Ocular Research and Education, ‘CORE Alerts Practitioners to Mask-Associated Dry Eye (MADE)’, University of Waterloo (Ontario), School of Optometry and Vision Science. (August, 2020). [online]. Available at: https://core.uwaterloo.ca/news/core-alerts-practitioners-to-mask-associated-dry-eye-made/ [accessed 11/9/2020]

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