As we are now well and truly heading into the Winter the battle against COVID -19 seems set to continue. As a result, we are being increasingly required to wear face coverings or masks in public places and sometimes for extended periods of time.
I’m sure those of us who wear glasses will be well aware of the annoying fogging of the lenses when wearing a mask. The purpose of the mask is to reduce the spread of air outwards from our nose and mouth, however if the mask is fitting poorly it allows the warm air we are breathing out to escape upwards which results in ours specs steaming or misting up.
However, this warm air can also speed up the evaporation of our tears – a bit like a breeze blowing over damp skin, which over time may well cause the front surface of our eyes to become dry. For those who already suffer from dry eyes, this can cause an unwanted increase in symptoms, not only whilst wearing the mask, but possibly for some time after it has been removed as the delicate balance of the tear film has been disrupted. But for some of us, wearing a mask has left us wondering why we are experiencing irritated and sore eyes for the first time. Prolonged use of masks whilst looking at screens or working in air conditioning can also lead to irritated eyes.
It is important that we consider how to look after our eyes as we head into the winter and do our best to alleviate mask associated dry eye. Of course, if you are worried about your eyes or your symptoms persist, please seek advice from your Optometrist.
- Try to wear your mask correctly, especially if you are wearing glasses. If your glasses continue to mist up and warm air is still escaping upwards you could try carefully taping the top of the mask to help direct the air flow downwards. Make sure that the tape doesn’t affect your blinking though.
- Preservative free lubricating eye drops such as Hycosan Fresh or Hycosan Original may also help to prevent your eyes from drying. Your Optometrist can recommend the most appropriate type for you.
- Make sure you use your dry eye drops regularly, especially if you already suffer from dry eye. An extra drop in each eye before applying your mask may help reduce the drying effects.
- Try to limit time spent in air-conditioned environments and on digital devices whilst wearing a mask.
- Take regular breaks from screens and remember to blink fully when you are concentrating as this will help spread the tears over the surface of your eyes.
Finally – fight the urge to touch or rub your eyes. Rubbing your eyes can lead to a host of problems including micro abrasions or red, inflamed eyelids and often leaves them feeling worse than ever. Over the course of the pandemic we have all been discouraged from touching our eyes and face, to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, but not touching our eyes is something clinicians have always supported and actively discuss with their patients.
Please note this article isn’t intended to dissuade you from wearing a mask – it is far more important to protect yourself and others from the virus by covering your nose and mouth when in public places.