Face mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an increase in reported dry eye symptoms among regular mask wearers that hasn’t been described in the literature until recently. A study reported that while most people did not experience a change in ocular symptoms, a significant portion still reported an increase in ocular discomfort while wearing a mask.

The observational, descriptive, cross-sectional study analyzed the results of a survey that received a total of 3,605 responses. Of these, 2,447 reported symptoms, with 26.9% saying their symptoms were exacerbated by mask wearing. Of all participants, 18.3% said they experienced mask-associated dry eye.

The researcher found no significant association between perceived mask-associated dry eye, age, refractive correction and pre-existing ocular discomfort, but did find a positive association with female sex and retail work.

The author wrote in her paper that, although most participants reported no changes in ocular symptoms, the 658 people who reported exacerbated symptoms are still important to consider. “As face masks are necessary to slow down the spread of COVID-19, it’s important not to underestimate all symptoms that could discourage the population from using them,” she concluded. “Eye care professionals should verify the presence of clinical signs in all patients complaining about mask-induced eye discomfort, and suggest methods to mitigate this condition.”

Boccardo L. Self-reported symptoms of mask-associated dry eye: a survey study of 3,605 people. Contact Lens Ant Eye. January 20, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].