With Pennsylvanians required to use face masks when out of their homes to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, covered faces are the norm.
For the bespectacled among us, that can mean dealing with foggy eyeglasses.
It might seem like a minor issue amid the other disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, but it is annoying. According to the Visual Council of America, an estimated 164 million U.S. adults wear glasses, and now, many of them are required to often mask up, too.
“Everyone is learning what it’s like to be a medical student in an operating room,” says Nicole Jochym, a third-year medical school student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University working with the Sew Face Masks Philadelphia organization. “It’s a very normal problem.”
Folks who wear glasses, however, aren’t necessarily doomed to the scourge of foggy lenses. Here is what you need to know:
Why do my lenses fog up?
Anyone who has some experience with eyeglasses is familiar with their specs fogging up when temperatures change suddenly, like when you go from a warm room to a cold room. Fogging when you wear a mask is a similar issue; the culprit here is your warm breath.
“What happens is that as you breathe, air escapes from underneath the mask, and is directed under your glasses,” says Dr. Samir Mehta, chief of orthopedic trauma and fracture care at Penn Medicine. That causes your breath to condense on your comparatively cooler lenses, resulting in a fog on their surface.
Solution: Make a mask that fits your nose better
The best way to keep your glasses from fogging is to limit the amount of hot air that can hit them, which means making sure your face mask has a snug fit along the edge that runs across the bridge of your nose. That way, more hot air will be driven into the mask itself, as well as out its sides.
Jochym recommends making a cloth mask with a slot sewn in on the area that touches your nose so you can insert a moldable material like a pipe cleaner, paper clip, or twist tie. That way, you can shape the top edge of the mask to more snugly fit your face, similar to the metal nosepieces in N95 and some disposable surgical masks. And you will be able to remove the metal to clean the mask.
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“That helps give a tight fit around the nose,” she says. “A tight fit helps with glasses, but also the efficacy of the mask.”
You could also try including a thicker strip of fabric on the top edge of your homemade mask, which would provide a more rigid area that could be shaped to provide more of a seal. Or, Mehta says, you may consider masks with ties rather than elastic ones, as the ties “let you adjust tightness.”
Solution: Try tape or tissue
If you’ve already got a mask that you are using, you could try a couple of add-ons to help make more of a seal on your nose and reduce the amount of hot air getting through.
Mehta says that a common trick is to use cellophane or masking tape to hold the mask across the bridge of your nose. Typically, a two- or three-inch piece of tape across the nose followed by another piece on top of the mask could work in a pinch. Jochym, however, has some reservations about that method.
“Tape can be uncomfortable on the face, or cause an allergic reaction. Usually, it doesn’t stick to fabric well,” she says.
A similar method from Versant Health swaps tape for a tissue. That method involves folding a tissue horizontally, and inserting it between the top of your mask and your face so that it can absorb the moisture from your breath before it can fog your glasses. If you choose this method, be sure to pay special attention to cleanliness, Jochym says, since masks should be changed as they become wet or soiled.
Solution: Treat your glasses
If you’d rather futz with your glasses rather than your mask, there are options there, too.
A 2011 study published in the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England suggests simply washing your glasses with soap and water, and drying them with a soft tissue or allowing them to air dry. That method results in a “surfactant film" that can help keep glasses from fogging.
Washing glasses, Mehta says, helps more with the temperature differential issue that can causes glasses to fog by changing the temperature of the glass lenses, so your results may vary.
Commercially available anti-fog sprays or wipes, which include options such as FogTech Dx, may be a better solution. Jochym, however, warns that putting a “chemical near your eyeballs” has the potential to cause some irritation, so exercise caution.
Solution: Adjust your specs when masking
Rather than using a tape or special spray, Jochym has a much simpler method for preventing fogging on her glasses when wearing a mask: Moving them.
“If you push your glasses forward on your nose a little bit, it should help with fogging,” Jochym says. “It makes for more airflow between your face and glasses.”
However, Mehta notes, many people who wear glasses are “used to where they sit on their face,” so a change there has the potential to alter your vision.
What you shouldn’t do
While fogged glasses might be an annoyance, it is important to make sure you are not solving one problem by creating another. With that in mind, always make sure you are wearing your mask effectively.
“Do not wear a mask off your nose and only on your mouth,” Jochym says. “It’s not a proper way to wear them.”
Nicole Jochym, medical student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University and co-creator of Sew Face Masks Philadelphia.
Dr. Samir Mehta, chief of orthopedic trauma and fracture care at Penn Medicine.