Masking the Dry Eye Problem: What Different Mask Types are There?

We can’t pretend we don’t have dry eyes, but we might try to “mask the problem” – and that’s what I’ve done.

At my last visit to the optometrist, she set out a treatment plan for me which included using a warm, moist eye mask.

Using a heated eye mask

So I went to the pharmacy and purchased a microwaveable mask, brought it home, heated it up, and I was on my way with this new device. It’s a great help for me. I still use my lubricating drops, but the mask definitely gives me added relief. Sometimes I alternate the mask with a warm, moist facecloth, but I prefer the mask.

It’s now had plenty of use, been washed many times, and is looking decidedly old and grotty. It needs replacing, so I’ve started a search for a new one (at pharmacies and online).

Why use one?

But before I tell you what I found, I should back up a bit. Why exactly would you use a heated eye mask?

The heated masks are used to help unclog the meibomian glands in the eyes. These glands are in the upper and lower eyelids and produce the oil in your tears. This oil mixes with the tear film to reduce the speed at which your tears evaporate. If the glands get clogged, the composition of your tear film changes. Dysfunction of these glands is one of the main causes of chronic dry eye.

A heated mask works in the following way:1

  • The oil in your meibomian glands is warmed by the heat in the mask
  • The heat thins the oil, and loosens any clogs in the glands
  • Oil can flow from the glands into the tear film
  • The tear film can then moisten the eyes

From my information-gathering quest, I have discovered the following types of dry eye masks. Only a doctor could recommend if one of these is suitable for us, but it helps to know what is out there.

What are different types of dry eye masks?

Microwave-heated eye mask

This is what I’ve been using up until now. You heat the mask in the microwave for the time listed in the instructions. You then place the mask over your eyes for the time recommended. I would be checking with my doctor about these two points. Most of these masks are self-moisturizing. My one has silica beads in it, which absorb moisture from the air and then release the moisture when they’re heated.

Electric eye masks

These masks have a USB adapter and can be plugged into a USB port on a laptop or computer to charge. They have multiple heat levels and a timer function. I know I would find both of those functions useful. My optometrist wanted me to use my original mask for ten minutes, and I was setting the timer on my phone which was a nuisance.

The temperature remains constant (which doesn’t happen with the microwaveable mask) and it will switch off after the set time. This saves you reheating a microwaveable mask or re-wetting a facecloth. The heat given off from these electric masks is not moist, but they say it should still unclog your meibomian glands.

Self-heating eye masks

These are cloth masks into which you put a wafer. When you take the wafer out of its packet, you put it into a little pocket in the mask and it automatically heats up and then stays hot for up to ten minutes. These sound good for traveling when you don’t have access to a microwave. Many of these masks have the word “steam” in their name and say they release moisture to hydrate your eyes.

Hot and cold masks in one

Some eye masks are made of gel and can be used either hot or cold. For dry eyes, some of these masks can be heated in the microwave and then applied to the eyes. Other gel masks aren’t designed to go in the microwave. You place them in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes before using them. Placing the gel masks in the fridge or freezer makes them cold, of course. This is said to be good for puffy eyes.

Making sense of them all

Do I know which one I’m going to buy next? I don’t – not yet anyway! Do I know a bit more about the range available? I certainly do! There is a wide range of dry eye masks available, and it takes careful consideration to work your way through the advertising hype and get to the useful information.

But there is still a lot to learn. Which mask would be best for me? How long should I leave it on, and at what temperature? And what about the safety concerns? These devices could do serious damage if not used properly. Some people have multiple eye conditions as well as chronic dry eye. Is a mask suitable for those people? So many questions.

Getting a professional opinion

I certainly won’t venture any further in my quest without a professional opinion on these masks. There is only one person who’ll be answering my questions, and that will be my eye specialist. We’ll see what she has to say at my next visit.

Have you tried any of these masks? Please share your experiences below in the comments.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ChronicDryEye.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Have you tested your dry eye knowledge?