Face masks protect us and others from catching COVID-19, but it can come with an uncomfortable and painful side-effect – severe dry eyes.
"Dry eye can be a chronic pain condition, meaning you feel pain 24 hours a day," Dr. Sandra Cremers, an ophthalmologist at Visionary Eye Doctors in Rockville, says.
Cremers says dry eye can be caused by wearing a loose-fitting face covering which lets air escape from the top of the mask to flow right into your eyes.
"It will fog your glasses or really dry out your tear foam," she says.
This is what it looks like under the microscope.
The top picture is a healthy eye. Those white lines that look like piano keys are our Meibomian glands—which produce the oil in our tears.
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The bottom picture shows a severe case of dry eyes. Symptoms can range from red, scratchy eyes to a stinging burning sensation and blurry vision.
Cremers says too much screen time can also create problems.
Since masks are a necessity and most people are dependent on their mobile devices and laptops, what can be done about this problem?
According to Cremers, the best way to prevent the air you're breathing from hitting the eye constantly is to keep your mask snug to your face. Masks with wire rims can do this, but a piece of tape will also do the trick.
A face mask that’s snug will help keep your glasses from fogging up too.
Cremers says you can also try soaking your glasses in soapy water to create a thin film on the lenses that protect them from temperature changes.
"There's also creams people use for scuba diving that you can coat the inside of your glasses to help prevent fogging," Dr. Cremers says.
As winter approaches, bringing dry air with it, Cremers says more people than usual might start to take note of the dryness in their eyes.