Wearing Your Face Mask Can Cause This Painful Problem, Doctors Warn

Just because your PPE is keeping COVID at bay doesn't mean it doesn't come with some hardships.

At this point in the pandemic, medical experts widely agree that wearing a face mask in public is one of the best ways to combat the spread of coronavirus. But while your PPE is protecting others—and even yourself—from COVID, it can create some minor issues in the process. Now, doctors warn that wearing a face mask can cause a problem known as "mask-associated dry eye" (MADE), an irritating condition that can be potentially painful for some.

According to an August 31 announcement from the Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) in Canada, face coverings trap outward flowing breath as their intended basic function. Unfortunately, CORE reports that some looser fitting masks can allow an almost constant stream of air to travel upwards over the face—as anyone who wears glasses knows all too well. This increases vaporization and creates uncomfortable dry spots on the surface layer of the eyes known as "tear film."

Tired young man rubbing his eyes in front of a computer

On top of that, "some doctors have also noted that the masks can pull down the lower eyelids slightly, making it difficult for normal blinking to restore the healthy surface of the eye," Aditya Kanesa-thasan, MD, a corneal specialist at Wills Eye Hospital, told Health magazine.

This likely affects a large portion of the population, but it can be especially bad for anyone with an existing dry eye condition such as the elderly, those who wear contact lenses, and anyone who spends most of their day in an air-conditioned environment or looking at screens.

Even worse? Dry eyes also create another COVID risk by causing people to rub their eyes, potentially infecting themselves with their unwashed hands.

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So what's the best way to combat dry eyes created by wearing a face mask? Try using a mask with a wire fitting on the top that can secure it to your nose, or "add an extra cushion to the top edge of the mask and prevent air from escaping, similar to placing a towel under the door to avoid a draft," Kanesa-thasan told Health.

You can also find immediate comfort in eye drops. "Oil-based lubricants may be more effective—they help with tear evaporation," Vivian Shibayama, OD, an optometrist with UCLA Health told Health. She also recommends using a hot compress at night to stimulate glands to produce oil for tears.

Unfortunately, MADE isn't the only PPE annoyance that can pop up: Others complain of increased blemishes—AKA "maskne"—that their face coverings can cause. And for more on unintended side effects, check out This OTC Pain Medication Could Make You Take Dangerous Risks, Study Says.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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