Prolonged face mask use may worsen dry eye symptoms in health care workers

Prolonged face mask use may worsen dry eye symptoms in health care workers

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Wearing a face mask, particularly an N-95 mask, for more than 6 hours a day could exacerbate dry eye symptoms in health care workers aged younger than 40 years with a history of dry eye disease, researchers reported in Cureus.

In an observational cross-sectional study, Motwani and colleagues examined 114 health care workers (55.3% women) at All India Institute of Medical Sciences to determine whether wearing a face mask for more than 3 to 6 hours daily causes new onset or worsening of pre-existing dry eye disease symptoms.

Participants underwent ophthalmological examinations and completed a two-part Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI) questionnaire assessing demographic details, mask preferences, duration of daily mask wear, and symptoms and severity of dry eye disease. They were grouped by gender, age (< 40 years, 40-60 years), daily duration of face mask wear (< 3 hours/day, 3-6 hours/day, > 6 hours/day) and prior dry eye disease history.

Based on their findings, researchers offered recommendations for health care workers experiencing dry eye disease.

“Since health care workers who frequently interact with patients or who work in crowded environments cannot avoid face masks, it is crucial that they are aware of the signs and symptoms of dry eye and seek medical attention as soon as possible to stop further deterioration,” Motwani and colleagues wrote. “Additionally, we advise users who are experiencing worsening dry eye disease symptoms to either increase the frequency of instillations or the density of eye lubricants. Taping the area around the nose may also be helpful. In fact, tape assists in creating an airtight seal that hinders the entry of respiratory gases to the ocular surface.”

While acknowledging that further research is needed in a larger population, researchers added: “The results of this study are crucial because dry eye symptoms can cause irritation of the eyes, affect the ocular surface and, in prolonged scenarios, affect the quality of life of patients.”

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