Eye doctors have a message for every one of us: Don't forget to blink.
The novel coronavirus has correlated with surprising side effects, like increased instances of body acne (from all that sitting) and social media showed many people decided to dye their hair pink (from all that sitting around bored). Around the Allure virtual office, we've also noted instances of mysteriously swollen and irritated eyelids. And according to the experts, we're not alone.
"People tend to take their eyes for granted until there's a problem," says Monica Dweck, a board-certified ophthalmologist in New York City, and an associate professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Since the pandemic has people spending more time at home, she's noticed a rise in one of those problems called blepharitis, or the swelling of the eyelids. Blepharitis manifests as inflammation of the eyelids, which can also include flaky or crusty eyelids or eyelashes, as well as redness, itching, or burning around the eyes and lids. The experts helped us break down what exactly blepharitis is — and why it may be more likely to creep up on you during stay-at-home orders.
Blepharitis has a range of causes, including contact or irritant dermatitis, allergic reactions, drug-induced swelling, systemic vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), cluster headaches, or even "something as simple as swelling due to eating too much salt," says Flora Kim, a board-certified dermatologist in Dallas. Improper removal of eye makeup can also "lead dramatically" to swollen lids, according to Dweck.
Dry eyes can also lead to swollen eyelids, which means one reason for a potential uptick of blepharitis this year is the increased amount of time spent in front of screens. "There's a very strong association with blepharitis and dry eye symptoms during this pandemic," says Dweck. "People are using screens more — Zoom conferencing, computer screens, reading or watching more television, looking at their phone, looking at their tablets. When people are performing these concentrated activities, we call these 'visually attentive tasks,' they tend not to blink."
Blinking is what moisturizes the front of the eye, so when you don't blink, tears can dry more quickly, leading to dry eye problems like swollen lids.
Allergies can also lead to blepharitis — whether it's an environmental allergy or an irritation from a new substance that comes in contact with the eye, like makeup. Ilyse Haberman, a board-certified ophthalmologist in New York City has an additional theory: "It's possible that when people were in one place during [stay-at-home measures], they were exposed to higher concentrations of whatever environmental allergy was around."
"A warm compress is usually the initial treatment, and then we do a scrub," says Dweck. Start with a warm towel held over the affected area once or twice daily. If you don't feel any relief, pick up an over-the-counter lid scrub such as OCuSoft Lid Scrub.
While you're at the drugstore, add a bottle of moisturizing eye drops to help combat any dryness. (Dweck typically advises using eye drops every two to four hours, but if you spend lots of time staring at screens during the day, you can apply even more often.) If your lids are already swollen, it's also helpful to avoid irritating them further with eye makeup or mascara.
If at-home treatments aren't doing the trick, Haberman says she may "prescribe steroid ointments, immunomodulator eye drops, or oral antibiotics."
It all comes back to that first piece of advice — remember to blink. Barring the ability to monitor your lid habits all day, Dweck suggests taking a break from the screen every 20 to 30 minutes and closing your eyes. If your eyes feel dry, but blepharitis hasn't set in, stock up on moisturizing eye drops and make sure to use them multiple times per day. And finally — like we always say — don't go to bed with your eye makeup on.
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