Eye Warming Masks Improve Ocular Surface, Depression Symptoms

Headshot of young woman dreaming in bed in daytime, wearing gray sleeping mask covering eyes fully, relaxing after night shift or long studies
A study shows how masks designed to alleviate ocular stress can also help manage mental health.

Ocular surface conditions and subjective depression scores improved after daily use of a warming eye mask, according to findings from a multicenter, double-blind, randomized trial, published in The Ocular Surface.

Participants for this study were recruited from 3 institutions in Japan between 2017 and 2018. Patients were randomized to receive warming eye masks (n=39) or nonwarming masks (n=40) which they were instructed to wear for at least10 minutes daily for 2 weeks. The experimental mask was single-use and administered moist heat at ~40 °C for ~20 minutes. Participants were assessed by corneal and conjunctival fluorescein staining, tear break up time (TBUT), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score (HADS), and Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS).

The experimental and control groups were aged 53.2±17.2 and 45.5±17.1 years (P =.051) and 23% and 20% were women (P =.79), respectively.

At baseline, the experimental group had lower average TBUT (3.7±1.9 seconds) compared with controls (4.8±2.3 seconds; P =.03).

At follow-up the experimental group had improved TBUT (mean, 3.7±1.9 vs 5.1±2.0 s; P <.001), fluorescein staining scores (mean, 1.5±2.0 vs 0.8±1.3; P <.001), and HADS depression scores (mean, 5.5±4.3 vs 4.6±3.5; P =.02) but not HADS anxiety scores (mean, 5.8±3.9 vs 4.9±3.7; P =.10) or SHS scores (mean, 53.2±0.6 vs 4.5±0.8; P =.26). The investigators did not observe a significant change for any variable among controls (all P ≥.17).

Among a subset of individuals who had dry eye disease (experimental: n=33; control: n=26), the warm eye mask associated with improved TBUT (difference, 1.7; P <.001), fluorescein staining scores (difference, -0.8; P <.001), and HADS depression scores (difference, -1.1; P =.01). The control condition did not associate with any significant differences (all P ≥.07).

Stratified by age, the warming eye mask improved HADS depression (difference, -1.1; P =.03) and anxiety (difference, −1.6; P =.04) scores among individuals aged <50 years and TBUT (difference, 1.8; P <.001) and fluorescein staining scores (difference, -1.2; P <.001) among those aged ≥50 years.

This study may have been biased by its between-group differences at baseline.

These findings suggested that use of a warming eye mask for at least 10 minutes per day has the potential to improve ocular surface conditions and reduce symptoms of depression.

Disclosure: Some study authors declared affiliations with the biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.  


Uchino M, Kawashima M, Yamanishi R, et al. The effects of a steam warming eye mask on the ocular surface and mental health. Ocul Surf. 2021;21:129-133. doi:10.1016/j.jtos.2021.05.007

This article originally appeared on Ophthalmology Advisor