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How Eye Masks Can Be Beneficial for Dry Eyes?

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A young woman lying with an eye mask on both eyes to relieve dry eyes

If you’re one of the many individuals who struggles with dry eyes, you know how uncomfortable and bothersome symptoms are. The good news is your eye doctor can conduct an eye exam and dry eye assessment to help determine the underlying cause and recommend adequate treatment. 

Treatment and management for dry eye relief can include eye masks to help unclog oil glands and increase the lubrication in your eyes. 

Eye masks can provide numerous benefits and address troublesome dry eye symptoms.

All About Dry Eyes

Dry eye disease occurs when the tear glands in our eyes don’t produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. Your tears have 3 layers:

  1. Outer oil layer: Prevents tears from evaporating and creates a smooth surface
  2. Middle water layer: Keeps the eyes moist and provides nutrients to the eyes
  3. Inner mucus layer: Helps tears stick to the eye’s surface 

If you have insufficient tears or poor-quality tears from an imbalanced tear film, it can lead to dryness and other symptoms, such as:

  • A stinging or burning sensation in your eyes
  • A scratchy feeling
  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye redness
  • The feeling of something in your eyes
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision 
  • Eye fatigue

Several factors can contribute to dry eyes, including environmental conditions, prolonged screen time, aging, certain medical conditions, and some medications. 

A female optometrist examining the eyes of a man using a medical device to detect potential eye problems

Treating Dry Eye Disease

While there is no cure or one-size-fits-all approach to treating dry eyes, your optometrist can perform some tests and procedures, including measuring the volume and quality of your tears. They can then recommend dry eye treatment based on your needs. 

Management of dry eyes can also depend on the severity of your symptoms. For mild symptoms, you can use artificial tears to lubricate your eyes. For moderate to severe dry eyes, you may need prescription eye drops to help reduce inflammation or produce more tears. 

Other treatments may focus on reversing or managing the underlying health condition or factor causing your dry eyes or stopping your tears from draining away from your eyes. One at-home or in-office procedure to help with dry eye relief is different types of eye masks. 

Eye Masks for Dry Eye Relief

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is a condition that causes dry eye disease. When the meibomian glands in the eyelids, which secrete the oil (meibum) in tears, become clogged from inflammation in the eyes, your tears can evaporate more quickly. 

Warm compresses or heated eye masks can help unclog the meibomian glands as follows:

  • The mask warms the oil in your meibomian glands
  • As heat thins, the oil and the glands become unclogged
  • The oil can easily flow out of the glands
  • Balanced water, oil, and mucus tear film can lubricate the eye

There are different types of heated masks, such as:

  • Microwave-heated eye masks: These are heated in the microwave and placed over the eyes for 10 minutes
  • Self-heating eye masks: These do not require a microwave and are a quick and easy option

Depending on the severity of the clogged glands, heated eye masks need to be at an ideal temperature and applied to the eyelid surface and location of the meibomian gland. Heated eye masks are safe to use, provided you follow the instructions carefully. Overheating an eye mask could cause damage to the eye area. 

For these reasons, it’s best to visit your eye doctor for treatment with heated eye masks. Or ask your eye doctor to show you how to safely and correctly use one. 

The benefits of other eye masks can include lubrication and moisture retention. Eye masks provide a gentle, warm compress over the eyes, which can help increase lubrication and moisture retention to alleviate dryness and reduce discomfort. Eye masks can also help prevent tears from evaporating too quickly, providing prolonged relief.

Sleep masks can trap moisture and keep the eyes hydrated when you sleep or take naps. They can work for people who sleep with fans or air conditioning that makes the air dry and dries your eyes. 

You can make a difference in managing your dry eyes when you regularly use an eye mask, from promoting lubrication and moisture retention to alleviating eye fatigue and inflammation. But before buying a heat mask for at-home use, consult your eye doctor if you have persistent or severe dry eye symptoms and whether they can help you find relief. 

A Management Plan that Works for You

You don’t need to continue suffering from dry eyes. You can find relief and enjoy eye comfort with proper treatment and management. Take the first step towards soothing relief, and book an appointment with Simcoe Optometric Clinic.

Written by Dr. Amber McKnight

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