With dry eye disease on the rise, COVID-19 isn't making it easy on patients. While the use of face masks is considered essential for the prevention and spread of coronavirus, it may cause ocular dryness and irritation.
At Beverly Hills Optometry, we have seen a noticeable increase of eye irritation and dry eye symptoms for patients wearing their masks for extended periods of time. Full-time mask users report worsening of their subjective scores on our dry eye questionnaire (the SPEED survey).
The majority of these patients feel an awareness of air blowing upward from the top of their mask into their eyes. Unfortunately, this increase in airflow to the ocular surface likely contributes to tear film evaporation, which may lead to fluctuating vision, eyes burning, red eyes, contact lens intolerance, ocular inflammation and others.
Particular attention should be given to patients considering refractive surgery (i.e. LASIK and Cataract surgery), patients with systemic or skin conditions (i.e. Sjogren's syndrome, Ocular Rosacea, Diabetes, Arthritis, etc), patients on certain medications (i.e. Accutane, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, birth control, etc), patients who wear eye makeup regularly, & patients will excessive digital device use.
For regular-use mask wearers, here are some tips to minimize harm to the ocular surface as well as various at-home solutions for managing new or ongoing dry eye concerns.
TIPS FOR PROLONGED MASK USERS TO COMBAT MASK-ASSOCIATED DRY EYE
1) To date, some of the most helpful preservative-free lubricating drops are Oasis Tears Plus, FreshKote PF, Retaine MGD, and Systane Hydration PF.
2) Patients may also benefit from eye protection with either wraparound sunglasses or goggles when using their face mask.
3) Ideally, patients should wear masks with a pliable nose-wire (i.e. 3-ply mask) in order to contour their cheeks and nose, which reduces air directed toward the eyes. Additionally or alternatively, patients can use gentle medical tape to seal the top part of their mask, being mindful not to limit the movement of the lower eyelids and allow for proper blinking.
4) We strongly recommend taking breaks every few hours to remove the mask and reapply oil-based lubricating drops.
5) For masks wearers and heavy computer users, we advise blink exercises which only take up to 3 minute/day. For example, hold the eyes open for 2 seconds, gentle close for 2 seconds, then squeeze the lid tightly together for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 reps, three times daily.
If you're experiencing persistent or worsening of dry eye symptoms, consider visiting our office to learn more about the office-based treatments for evaporative dry eye.