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The Face Mask Dilemma – Do They Cause Styes and Chalazions?

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Just when you thought it might be almost over, COVID has come thundering back again with the Delta variant. This hyper-transmissible version of the virus has most of us wearing face coverings again, especially while indoors. Since we began wearing face masks in early 2020, many eye doctors saw a significant rise in two common eye conditions, styes and chalazions.

They may be mistaken for each other, but these two issues are distinctly different. Chalazions are swellings or lumps on the upper or lower eyelids caused when an oil gland becomes blocked and causes inflammation. Most of the time chalazions aren’t painful. Many people don’t realize they have a chalazion until it gets rather large. The larger these bumps grow, the more likely they are to become red, swollen and tender to the touch. At this stage, they may put pressure on the eye or cause blurred vision. If you haven’t had a vision test in the past year and are experiencing these symptoms, make sure to schedule a vision exam with your eye doctor as soon as possible to determine if the chalazion is causing the problems with your vision, or if it is another issue entirely.

A stye usually presents as a small red bump that appears on the edge of your eyelid. Most of the time it grows from the base of your eyelash or under your eyelid. Styes are usually caused by bacterial infections. Unlike chalazions, almost every stye is very painful, and the entire eyelid may swell, not just the affected area. A sore, scratching sensation when your lid moves is also common.

So how does wearing a mask contribute to the development of these conditions? According to a study published by the American Journal of Ophthalmology, wearing a face mask will dramatically increase the temperature and humidity level of the air underneath the material. When you’re wearing a mask, this warm, moist air is driven upward toward your eyes when you breathe, rather than the natural air flow that occurs when the forward motion of your outgoing breath isn’t trapped by a mask. This is why many who wear glasses experience a much greater incidence of lens fogging while they’re wearing face coverings.

This warm, moist air forms a suitable environment for the development of bacteria that can cause infections and inflammation, resulting in styes and chalazions. Chalazions can also develop when a person suffers from dry eye, and the use of face masks has been shown to accelerate the evaporation of tears and contribute to eye dryness.

Although styes and chalazions are unattractive and can be uncomfortable, the risk of developing one isn’t a strong enough reason to stop wearing a face covering as directed by the CDC. The benefits of a donning a mask far outweigh the risks. To reduce the chances of getting a stye or chalazion, follow these guidelines:

  • Try not to touch your face.
  • Make sure to wash your hands as often as possible.
  • Adjust your mask only when absolutely necessary. The less you touch your mask, the better it protects you.
  • If you use cloth face masks, wash them after every use with hot water and a scent-free detergent.
  • Use adhesive tape to close the gap between the nose bridge of your mask and your face. This will reduce the amount of air that travels upward into your eyes. Make sure the tape doesn’t restrict the movement of your lower eyelids, as this can actually reduce the amount of moisture in the eye.
  • Clean your eyelids daily with a gentle scrub. Your optometrist can recommend one that can serve as both an antiviral and antibacterial deterrent.
  • Apply warm compresses (cloth dampened with warm water) on your eyes for ten minutes before bed. Gently message the edges of your eyelids while they’re under the cloth to help unclog your oil glands. You can also use lubricating eye drops during the day. Your eye doctor can help you choose the best eye drops for your particular situation.
  • Swap out your contact lenses for glasses – it’s best to keep your hands away from your eyes whenever you can. Now is a great time to show off your style with chic designer frames or a fresh take on a scholarly look!
  • DO NOT TRY TO POP OR PIERCE THE BUMP OR LUMP. This will spread bacteria into the eye and only magnify the problem.

If you’ve been having eye discomfort due to excessive dryness or suspicious lumps or bumps, now is the time to reach out to your Houston eye doctor of choice at Pro-Optix Eye Care. Call 713-360-7095 to schedule an appointment today!