COVID Precautions Impact Eye Health

Kathrynne Hester, Staff Writer

You’re sitting in class discussing the chapter you just read for English and a mask is covering your face. Every time you speak, your hot breath pushes up through the mask and straight into your already-dry-from-late-nights eyes, forcing you to blink to try and push the discomfort away a moment longer.

Well, that moment has ended for a lot of students because wearing our masks almost all day and staring at a screen for almost seven hours per day puts a lot of pressure on our eyes. Pressure that has turned into infections, migraines and extreme dry eyes, and all these cause a host of other symptoms. Lately, local pharmacies are selling out of eye medications.

Many teenagers and even adults have noticed that dealing with their acne has been harder with wearing their masks. The oil, sweat and dirt that get caught in the masks stay on your face and clog the pores leading to more face acne then some people are used to. The same type of thing is happening with peoples eyes. Every time someone exhales a hot, dirty breath into their mask, it usually pushes that air into their eyes, along with the micro bacteria that only belong in their mouths and not the sensitive microbiomes of their eyes.

Graphic courtesy of AOA.org.

Blepharitis, which is essentially an inflammation of the eyelids, is one eye problem that has grown during the pandemic. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Blepharitis commonly occurs when tiny oil glands near the base of the eyelashes become clogged, causing irritation and redness.” While blepharitis is uncomfortable and may look pretty bad, it is not contagious. Mayo Clinic informs us that the most common symptoms include “watery eyes, a gritty, burning or stinging sensation in the eyes, eyelids that appear greasy, itchy eyelids, red, swollen eyelids, [and] flaking of the skin around the eyes.” The most recommended eye washes for this issue are TheraTears and Cliradex. A simple warm washcloth works well too, but please check with your doctor before using anything on your eyes.

Graphic courtesy of northamptoneye.com.

Chalazion, a slow-growing, inflammatory lump in the oil gland of the eyelid is another eye issue. According to the American Journal of Ophthalmology Case Reports, mask wearing has indeed been one of the factors behind these growing cases. Aside from not wearing a mask altogether, which has been frowned upon lately, it is recommended that in order to avoid chalazion people should take care of their mouths better. Certain measures include “the use of an antiseptic mouthwash containing hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or povidone iodine. This has been shown to reduce bacterial load (as well as the viral load of SARS CoV-2 itself) and may decrease the likelihood of masked breathing patterns altering the normal flora of the eyelids and periorbital region.”

Keeping your mouth clean keeps the breath that you breathe into your eyes clean. Recommended are “frequent hot water washing of cloth face masks, good hand hygiene practices, avoidance of face touching, avoidance of excessive mask adjustment and use of adhesive tape over ones mask on the bridge of the nose to minimize the upward direction of air towards the eyes. Again, please check with your doctor if you are experiencing any issues and if you plan on taking anything to help with these issues.

Plugging in all the numbers, high school students spend around seven hours a day on their school laptops, but then factoring in homework which is also online, that adds about three to five more hours of screen time. Plus, we must take into consideration the amount of time each individual spends either in front of the TV or staring at their smartphones, which is about five hours a day according to National Public Radio (NPR). In total, teenagers in school are spending about 17 hours staring at a screen within a 24-hour time period at most. That is not a statistic we want to see for any generation. Granted, some of those hours are personal choices, but at least ten hours of that is school assigned homework or classwork.