Young Woman Walking On The Street With Protective Face Mask.

This $10 Hack Can Help You Avoid Mask-Associated Dry Eye

Hint: You’d normally use it to help you fall asleep when you’re congested AF.
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Now that face masks are a regular part of your wardrobe, you've probably become an expert at making them as comfortable as possible. From finding maskne-friendly fabric to preventing foggy glasses, it's crucial to find what works for you so you can do your part to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19. However, many people are experiencing mask-related dry eye, which makes it more uncomfortable to wear a mask for long periods of time, and leads to irritation even after you get home and take off your face covering.

Dry eye (and general eye irritation) is emerging as a common phenomenon among mask-wearers. When donning a mask — particularly one that only loosely fits your face — your exhaled breath can flow up toward your eyes, causing your tears to evaporate and leaving you with dry, gritty-feeling eyes, says Diana Shechtman, O.D., a board-certified optometric physician at Retina Macula Specialists of Miami. "Some may think it is allergies," she explains, as symptoms include watery eyes, redness, stinging, and that nagging feeling that something is stuck in your peepers. (Here's how to tell if your symptoms are due to allergies.)

But if you've already ruled out allergies as a possible dry eye cause, chances are, your face mask is probably the culprit. While there are multiple ways to address the issue — from adjustable face mask extenders to hot eye compresses that can help stimulate tear production — some experts have been touting a more unexpected hack: using Breathe Right Nasal Strips (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) to secure the fit of your face mask.

In case you're not familiar, Breathe Right Nasal Strips are meant to help manage nighttime congestion for improved sleep. But now that mask-associated dry eye is a thing, some folks are finding unique ways to use the strips — namely, to help face masks fit more snugly and restrict the upward airflow that causes dryness and irritation.

Thanks to the "tacky" adhesive in Breathe Right Nasal Strips, they can help keep your mask in place, "especially if you're wearing it for long hours," Vivian Shibayama, O.D., an optometrist at the UCLA Health Stein Eye Institute, told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

To try the hack yourself, simply apply a Breathe Right Nasal Strip to the nose bridge of your mask (or along the top of the mask), press down along the edge of the mask to secure the adhesive, and voila!

If you're worried this hack will compromise the integrity of the mask itself, don't. "As long as a mask is fitted properly over the nose and mouth and has a good seal around the edges, it should be effective in combatting the spread of COVID-19," says Roshni Patel, an optometrist and professional services manager at Lenstore. (Related: How to Find the Best Face Mask for Workouts)

Breathe Right Nasal Strips
$10.00
($17.00)

That said, no hack (this nasal strip included) can be totally foolproof in preventing mask-associated dry eye. While Breathe Right Nasal Strips can ensure a tighter fit, they can also "pull down the eyelids and cause eyes to dry out faster as a result," notes Patel.

"It's [also] important to remember that the skin around the eye is thin and may be sensitive to adhesive," adds Carol Alexander, O.D., an optometrist and the head of North American professional relations at Johnson & Johnson. "You should consult with your doctor for best recommendations on specific types of tape and test it on your skin before you use it on your face to ensure it doesn't cause irritation."

With that in mind, wearing a face mask with an adjustable nose wire could be a "better way" to prevent the mask from moving around your face and causing dry eye, suggests Patel. "It's also possible to get a tighter fit either with an adjustable mask or by 'flipping' or 'crossing' the straps before fitting them over the ears," she says. (Watch this dentist demonstrate another easy hack for making your mask fit better.) 

If you wear glasses, another trick is to pull your mask higher up on your nose and use your frames to seal the edge more tightly on your face, suggests Alexander.

Outside of mask hacks, Alexander also recommends using over-the-counter eye drops, such as Johnson & Johnson's Blink Tears (Buy It, $14, amazon.com) or Blink Gel Tears (Buy It, $18, amazon.com). "These artificial tears incorporate hyaluronic acid, which helps bind 1,000 times its weight in water, helping to hold the solution and the aqueous layer [which produces the bulk of the eye's tears] of the tear film on the eye longer to prevent evaporation that can lead to dry eye-related discomfort," she explains. "It also thickens as the eye blinks, which means the lubricating effect doesn't get blinked away shortly after insertion." (Related: Everything You've Been Wondering About Lumify Eye Drops)

If these mask-associated dry eye tricks don't work for you, be sure to talk to an optometrist about your symptoms, and consider some of the other possible reasons why your eyes are dry and irritated.