With all of the different information we see and hear about the need for everyone to wear face masks in the past year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are also some things to know about how this affects your eyes. It turns out that we have seen a corresponding increase in eye problems like dryness, redness, irritation, and even limited field of vision that can be related to these masks. Since mask use will likely continue for some time to come, it is important to understand how this can relate to certain eye problems.
The most common problem I see is dryness and irritation of the surface of your eyes that can come as air is directed from behind the mask up into your eyes. The most common masks in use have elastic ear loops that hold the sides of the mask against the sides of your face and under your jaw but leaves a gap above your cheeks so the air that doesn’t go through the mask goes right at your eyes. Masks are intended to filter the air, but with long-term daily use or as they get dirty more of the air is blocked and redirected instead of getting filtered forward.
With long-term mask wear, you may be experiencing this, especially toward the end of a long day. Certainly, people who already have a dry eye condition will experience this more than others. And since long-term mask wear is more common in groups like the elderly, or clinic and service staff, these are the ones most likely to be troubled. Think about how your glasses can cover the upper edge of your mask and further direct the airflow at your eyes.
Some people have used tape along the upper edge of their mask to reduce the airflow toward their eyes, but this has been associated with skin irritation along the eyelid. It can also pull the lower eyelid away from the eyeball with jaw movement when talking and cause a condition known as ectropion or lower lid drooping. This makes eye irritation worse and may produce watering and redness as well.
It is better to use a mask that has a pliable nose-wire that can be fitted to the shape of your nose and cheek to prevent the airflow to your eyes. Eye lubrication drops can be used more frequently during prolonged mask wear to help relieve the symptoms. It will also help to take a break when in a safe area and remove your mask allowing your eyes to recover for a few minutes or with the help of artificial tears. We have also seen that visual field tests done in the office to check for glaucoma and other eye conditions can be affected when patients being tested wear their masks during the test.
Certainly, we now have patients remove their masks for those tests, but the point to realize is that some masks can move into your field of vision as you are walking, climbing stairs, stepping off a curb, and result in a fall and injury. The use of face masks is intended to prevent the spread of disease through your nose and mouth. But the unprotected eye is also a vulnerable path for infection. When you see pictures of hospital staff at risk for exposure to disease, you will see them wearing eye shields as well as face masks. When your eye is irritated, it becomes more worrisome for allowing the possible spread of infection. Since we can expect to see long-term mask wear in the year 2021, we should all understand how this can produce unintended problems with our eyes, and take steps to help prevent dryness and irritation from becoming troublesome.
As always, if you are experiencing prolonged dryness, irritation, or pain in your eyes, or need to make an eye exam appointment, contact SureVision Eye Centers to schedule an appointment.