I am sure we have all been working long days recently while wearing personal protective equipment like masks and face shields. Although wearing a mask can help protect us and others from transmitting or acquiring the faceless mugger of 2020, wearing a mask undoubtedly makes life a little bit more difficult for our eyes. Most spectacle wearers have experienced the nuisance of having your lenses fogged, and for this you have likely taped your mask to your nose. But even for those of you who don’t wear glasses, you have likely also noticed a change to your eyes; perhaps they are feeling more gritty, uncomfortable, and sticky. This is because our breath with a mask on has as a drying affect on our eyes! Dry eyes are a very common complaint with many different causes, wearing a mask can however amplify the effects dry eye symptoms. Let me share with you what exactly causes that dry eye feeling and what you can do to help make your eyes feel better.
Thinly covering the clear part of our eyes (or the cornea) is a thin liquid layer called the tear film. One of the functions of this protective film is to help retain the eyes external moisture by preventing the evaporation of tears that our eyes produce naturally. If one of the components of the tear film is compromised or lacking then the tear film breaks more easily causing a sensation of dryness and irritability. A tear film pathology can be caused by health problems like miebomian gland dysfunction, but when we wear masks our breath unnaturally accelerates the rate at which our tear film breaks.
Although dry eye is difficult to combat, for those of you willing to try and strengthen your tear films I recommend using artificial tears like Systane, Hylo Eye Drops, and I-drop Pure Gel; these are easily bought over the counter. You can also try using hot compresses to improve the natural secretion of tear film strengthening oils onto the eye, or try eating oily foods like fish. A compromised tear film also means your eyes are more susceptible to problems like infections, please consult your closest eye-care health professional if you are unsure about the state of your eyes! Until next time, happy holidays and stay safe!