Is Your Face Mask Causing Your Eyes to Feel Dry and Irritated?

If you feel as if your eyes have been more dry and irritated over the past several months, you’re not alone.  Researchers at the University of Utah[i] have found that daily face mask use may be exacerbating the symptoms of dry eye. Eye practitioners have seen a significant increase in cases of dry eye since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, which include patients who never had dry eyes prior to the pandemic. These practitioners have attributed this rise in cases to regular face mask wear, and have termed this phenomenon Mask-Associated Dry Eye (MADE).

What is MADE?

MADE is dry eye which is caused or worsened by wearing a face mask on a regular basis. Dry eye develops when either the quantity or quality of the tear film of the eye is compromised. The tear film lubricates the eye’s surface and keeps the eye comfortable and clear. There are many causes of dry eye, in addition to regular face mask use.  Learn more about this common condition in our blog The Fine Art of Treating Dry Eye.

What are the symptoms of MADE?

Dry eye can cause many annoying symptoms which can be different for each patient, and may include:

  • redness
  • burning
  • itching
  • stickiness
  • discharge
  • pain (typically a stabbing or stinging type of pain)
  • sensation of having something in your eye
  • excessive tearing
  • blurred vision
  • light sensitivity

What causes MADE?

Although there are many causes of dry eye, MADE specifically, is attributed to regular mask wear.  Ophthalmologists at the University of Utah feel there are two main reasons for this:

Faster evaporation of the tear film.  This is caused by increased air flow coming from breathing inside the mask. Instead of your breath being dispersed into the air as it is when you’re not wearing a mask, it travels upward toward the eyes, drying out your tears.

Improper blinking due to a poor-fitting mask.  Blinking helps lubricate and protect the eyes, which not only keeps your eyes comfortable, but can affect the clarity of your vision. If a mask rides high and is tight-fitting, it can pull down on the lower lid causing an incomplete blink. When the eyelids do not fully close, the part of the eye that is exposed can dry out, causing the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye.

What can you do about MADE?

There are several steps you can take to help alleviate the annoying symptoms of dry eye.

Visit your eye doctor. There are many causes of dry eye in addition to regular face mask use, which can each require a different treatment approach. Learn more about this common condition in our blog The Fine Art of Treating Dry Eye.

Decrease the amount of airflow to the surface of your eyes. This can be accomplished by wearing a medical mask with wire inside the top edge which can be molded around the bridge of the nose.  Taping the top part of the mask across the bridge of the nose and cheeks is another way to help decrease the amount of air escaping from the mask. Surgical tape works best for this. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to use paper surgical tape, which can be less irritating to the skin.

Pay close attention to the fit of your mask. A high-riding mask, which sits above the cheek, can pull down on the lower eyelid which exposes more of the eye to airflow escaping from the top of the mask. This can dry out the surface of the eye and can cause an incomplete blink. Be sure to lower the mask to just below the cheek to help with this.

Wear goggles. Although a bit more cumbersome, this may be your best option for keeping your eyes well lubricated and comfortable while wearing your mask. The best goggles are those that have silicone cups which create a seal around the eye and keep moisture inside the goggles. Goggles can also decrease the possibility of the transmission of COVID-19 through the eye. 

Supplement your natural tears with over-the-counter natural tear drops. Even when you are not experiencing symptoms of dryness, using natural tear drops a minimum of four times a day is helpful in managing dry eye.

Give your eyes a break. When working on the computer or reading, you blink 60% less than at other times. Since blinking helps to lubricate your eyes, this can exacerbate the symptoms of dryness. In addition to using natural tears more frequently when using digital devices, taking breaks is important. Read more in our blog: Dr. Mandel’s Reading and Computer Tips.

Related Blog Posts:

Omega 3 Supplements and Dry Eye Syndrome

The Fine Art of Treating Dry Eye

Blepharitis:  What Is It and What Can I do About It? 

Punctal Plugs – An Alternative for Dry Eye Symptoms

MGE:A New Treatment for Dry Eye

The {Winter} Eye Blues 

Dr. Mandel’s Reading and Computer Tips

How to Get the Most Out of Your Eye Drops

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