MADE to measure

SES, 26 September 2021

How to protect your eyes while wearing masks

 

 

Wearing masks in everyday life is here – and it may be a while before we don’t have to regularly put them on again. While the mask is a common-sense response to preventing the transmission of viruses, for those wearing one over a long period of time there are other health implications to consider.

Dry eye syndrome is a widespread affliction, affecting a significant amount of New Zealanders each year.

Those suffering from this condition will often have sore, itchy or red eyes, excessive tearing and blurry eyesight, pain and irritation when waking and general sensitivity to smoke, wind or light. They may find it difficult to read or use a screen for any lengthy period and struggle with wearing contact lenses. In extreme cases dry eye can lead to corneal ulcers also.

While it generally affects those in midlife more, and women more often than men, the continued rise of screen time has seen cases of dry eye markedly increase for both young and old in recent times.

An Italian study… found that “of 2,447 with dry eye symptoms, 658 (26.9%) reported their symptoms were exacerbated when wearing a mask.

Now, with the increased use of masks (and use of these masks for extended periods of time), there are even more cases appearing. But why is this?

Wearing a mask often channels airflow up from the mouth and over the eyes. This process depletes the protective layer of moisture over the eye. Natural bacteria from the mouth may also be transmitted, increasing the chance for further issues. 

The issue is so widespread that there’s already a new acronym in place: MADE (Mask Associated Dry Eye).

An Italian study undertaken between September and October in 2020 found that “of 2,447 with dry eye symptoms, 658 (26.9%) reported their symptoms were exacerbated when wearing a mask. And overall, 18.3% of the 3,605 surveyed experienced MADE.”

Here are five tips for looking after your eyes while wearing masks.

  1. Get a good mask. This can make a significant difference. A bendable nose wire will allow the mask to sit snugly against the nose, ensuring the bulk of air expelled from the mouth flows away from the eyes. A plastic insert worn inside the mask can also create additional space to breathe through the nose, which again pushes air away from the eyes.
  1. Remember to blink. Blinking helps naturally lubricate the eye. It’s why excessive screen time can result in dry eye (staring at a glowing object can result in less than ideal blinking patterns), so remember to take a 20 second break from the screen and stare into the distance every 20 minutes. 
  1. If possible, take a break from mask wearing over the course of the day. The longer a mask is worn the more likely dry eye symptoms will appear and, if you already suffer from the condition, it will in all likelihood exacerbate things. If you can take regular breaks safely without compromising Covid protective standards this time without a mask can be beneficial.
  1. Look after your eyes. A hot compress or flannel to the eyes can help provide some relief from dry eye symptoms. So too does it help to have regular washes of the eyes, which will keep the eyelids free from bacteria.
  1. Get an expert diagnosis. If you are noticing an increase of symptoms it will certainly pay to arrange for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. If caught early it is far easier to treat dry eye effectively. 

Once you have a diagnosis there are a number of options available.

One approach that can be very helpful in treating dry eye is with an Optima Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) machine, an approach that uses light-based technology to heat, liquefy and loosen oils in the Meibomian glands. This treatment can unclog the glands and stimulate the production of oils around the eye, providing immediate relief for dry eye.

Although mask wearing for long periods of time is resulting in more instances of dry eye it is still legally required in many environments and is helpful in protecting both you and the community. 

IPL treatment is fast, safe and non-invasive. While some patients report a very small level of discomfort the vast majority describe a gentle and peaceful treatment. 

Although mask wearing for long periods of time is resulting in more instances of dry eye it is still legally required in many environments and is helpful in protecting both you and the community. We will always encourage everyone to wear masks, albeit with an awareness of protecting their vision as they do.

If you have any further questions about dry eye or would like to know more about IPL dry eye treatment please email info@southerneye.co.nz  with Dry eye treatment in the subject line.