Since the pandemic began, face masks have been required by many states and many professions. If you feel like your eyes are dry and irritated with all day mask wear, you are not alone. In a study conducted by the John A. Moran Eye Center, the center has seen a marked increase in dry eye symptoms amongst mask wearers in numerous clinics including those who have never suffered from dry eye. Those who use masks regularly and for extended duration are more likely to have symptoms including the elderly, immunocompromsied, and clinic staff.
What is Face-Mask Associated Irritation and Dry Eye?
Mask Associated Dry Eye or MADE is a new area of study due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Frequent mask wears reported an awareness of air blowing from their mask into their eyes. The increase in airflow likely accelerates the evaporation of the tear film causing inflammation. Mask wearers also described a worsening of symptoms as assesed by the Ocular Surface Disease Index. Cataract patients showed increased corneal staining as well as increased dryness post-operatively.
Those who used taped masks to avoid air flow, complained of ocular irritation. The study suggests this may be due to the tape adherence to the skin of the lid interferring with the normal posture of the lower eye lid.
Some studies have found dry eye symptoms in COVID-19 positive patients most likely due to long-term maks use in these patients. It was also suggested that these patients may have increased virus transmission due to more frequent eye touching from feelings of air blowing in the eye with mask use.
A disrupted tear film may also be a problem. Uncomfortable dry eyes may cause more people to rub or touch their eyes and/or face with patholgen transfer. Additionally, the tear film protects the eye from pathogens and if compromised, may cause an increase for ocular infections secondary to mask wear.
How Can Mask-Associated Dry Eye be Treated?
Lubricant eye drops and protection such as googles should be used with masks. If one has a previous history of dry eye, surgery or Sjogrens, they may need advanced treatment.
Masks with a nose-wire should be used with special care taken to ensure air doesn't flow toward the eyes. Masks may also be taped, but the lower lid should be avoided. Eye drops should be installed frequently with all day mask wear. Accodring to the study, emollient eye drops may be best in maintaining the tear film layer and managing symptoms.