Along with providing excellent eye care to patients, EyeXcel also hosts optometry students throughout the year. My name is Ashley Berry, I am the current student doctor at EyeXcel this fall. I am originally from Michigan and went to Central Michigan University for my bachelor’s degree, Fire Up Chips!  The last three years I have been in Memphis studying at Southern College of Optometry. The first three years of optometry school focus on book work, practicing skills on classmates, and working with patients at the school. I am now in my final year of schooling where we go out to real practices to learn from the doctors there. Outside of work, I enjoy going on hikes and exploring East Tennessee with my fiancé Mitch. We are busy planning our wedding for this January in Michigan!

optometry student portrait

I wrote this blog post because many of my patients tell me about their new or worsening dry eye symptoms starting in the last 18 months. Some people have tried a few remedies, others believe their dry eyes are to be expected and have not tried to fix it. Here are some tips on how to improve symptoms of Mask Associate Dry Eye.

Purpose of Face Masks:

In recent times, face masks have become a normal part of our society. Wearing a face mask that covers the nose and mouth can reduce transmission of airborne particles. With the COVID-19 pandemic, that means face masks can help stop the spread of the disease. Continued use of face masks may be part of our culture for the foreseeable future. How does this face mask use affect the eyes?

Effect of Masks on Eyes:

Face masks are good at stopping air droplets from spreading out large distances. But where does that air go? As anyone who wears glasses has noticed, some of that air is re-directed up out of the mask and towards our eyes. This can cause the lenses on our glasses to fog up from our breath! The air that is channeled up to our glasses also blows across our eyes and across the tear film in front of our eyes.

The tear film, as shown below, is a very important part of the eye. It provides protection from pathogens, maintains eye comfort, and maintains quality of vision. As seen in the video below, tears naturally begin to evaporate between blinks. When air blows across the eye, evaporation happens faster leading to dry eye symptoms. A new complaint eye doctors are seeing is Mask Associated Dry Eye (MADE). Symptoms of MADE are just like the other types of dry eye causing the eyes to feel gritty, irritated, itchy, or watery.

How to Protect Your Eyes:

  1. Look for masks with pliable nose wires. The nose wire can be used to secure the top of the mask and stop air from being directed towards the eyes. Alternatively, some people use medical tape to secure the top of masks. If you choose to use tape, be careful that it is not irritating the skin or interfering with the function of the lower eyelids.
  2. Warm compresses can be used to promote meibomian gland secretions in the eyelids. These glands produce the oily part of the tear film and slow down evaporation. The doctors at EyeXcel recommend using a heating mask specifically made for the eyes to do these warm compresses. Gently use your index finger to press on the eyelids and express that oil after using the warm compress.
  3. Use artificial tears. Artificial tears can replenish the tear film and improve symptoms of dry eye. Artificial tears are more effective when used consistently. Try using these drops up to 4 times a day.
  4. Take breaks from screen use! We tend to blink less when staring at screens. Remembering to look away and blink can help with eye strain and dry eye. Try following the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look 20 feet away. Practice blinking exercises during those breaks.
  5. It can become a habit to touch your face and adjust your mask, so wash your hands frequently.

If you have concerns about dry eye or your eye health, make an appointment with your eye doctor with us at 865-687-1232 or click here to request an appointment to discuss treatment options.