“Individuals using masks regularly for an extended duration appear more likely to show symptoms,” they wrote. “This group includes the elderly, immunocompromised, and clinic staff who wear masks almost full-time.”
Why is this a problem?
“The majority of individuals described an awareness of air blowing upward from the mask into their eyes. This increased airflow likely accelerates the evaporation of the tear film which, when continuous for hours or days, may result in ocular surface irritation or inflammation,” the researchers wrote.
The tear film is an essential barrier against pathogens, and mask use could cause this barrier to evaporate more rapidly. Discomfort from dry eyes might also increase eye rubbing and face touching, leading to the spread of the coronavirus.
How can you prevent damage to your eyes?
The first step, experts say, is to ensure your mask fits properly. Masks with a pliable nose wire should be used, with attention toward fitting the shape of the wire to prevent air being directed toward the eyes. If you already own masks without nose wires, you can buy adhesive adjustable strips on Amazon that will allow you to fit your mask better.
Next, if you find your eyes are getting dry, consider taking a break from wearing your mask.
“Patients experiencing dry eye symptoms from extended mask wear should take breaks every few hours to remove the mask, allow the eyes to recover, and reapply lubricant eye drops,” the researchers wrote. “Emollient eye drops may be the most effective in preventing symptoms by preserving tear film. Blinking exercises may also be beneficial.”
At night, or whenever you are home and not needing a mask, place a warm or hot wet washcloth on your eyes for a few minutes.
“This can help stimulate your eyelid’s Meibomian glands—which are responsible for the oily outer layer of your tears—and push more oil out of the glands,” Vivian Shibayama, an optometrist with UCLA Health, told Health. “And, with more oil in your tears, the lubrication on your eyes should be less likely to evaporate as quickly.”
You can also invest in sealed goggles, like Ziena’s moisture chamber eyecups. You can also opt for less fashionable but just as functional swim goggles, like these by Speedo.
"If fit properly, it keeps moisture in and the virus out,” Shibayama said.