Masks and Your Vision

woman wearing face mask

As I write this it is May 2020. We’re still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. And we’re all being asked to wear face masks now.

Depending on how you’re moving around in public and coming into contact with others at this point, you may be wearing them for relatively small amounts of time or all day long. You may only have a face mask on for 20 minutes when you go into the grocery store once a week or you may have a job that’s requiring that you wear one for many hours a day at a stretch.

Noticed anything different about your experience being in the world with a face mask on?

If you read my blog, you know that I write about the connection between vision and posture a lot. So much so that I’ve got a whole category devoted to the subject.

Because you’re human, you’re visually dominant. Your sense of sight is extremely important. It plays a huge role in your ability to balance and your overall sense of space. And exerts a large influence on your posture.

Peripheral vision is something that you rely on but aren’t conscious of most of the time. It’s often described as seeing out to your sides. When you go to the DMV to renew your driver’s license, part of the vision test is to test your peripheral vision. To do this, they flash red lights on the right and left of you to see if you notice them when looking straight ahead. And this is the peripheral vision that you need for driving. But it’s not all of your peripheral vision.

Your peripheral vision is around the periphery—think of a circle that extends not only out to the right and left of your eyes but also above and below your eyes. If you wear a baseball cap, you’ll block out the part of your peripheral vision above your eyes. Ever run into low-hanging tree branches when out for a walk wearing a hat with a brim?

The face mask blocks out the part of your peripheral vision below your eyes. I’d been noticing that it was annoying to try to see stuff on the shelves in the grocery store lately, but I wasn’t attributing it to the lack of part of my peripheral vision. Sometimes I’m a slow learner.

It took me tripping over an ill-placed box in the corner liquor store last weekend to be reminded that my peripheral vision is not just out to the sides, but also above and below. Granted the box was not in a great spot, but I didn’t see it at all. Had I not been wearing a mask I’d have noticed it and avoided it. And it probably would have happened without my conscious thinking about it. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself.

At least for a while, you’re probably going to be wearing a face mask from time to time. It’s not all bad. Just be aware that you’re a bit handicapped by the mask because it’s taking away part of your vision. When you’re wearing the mask and walking in areas where there might be obstacles in your way, pay special attention. Going up and down a flight of stairs is another place to pay attention as well. Simply making sure you have your hand on the handrail can help a lot.

Have you had any strange or unusual experiences with wearing your face mask and your lack of peripheral vision? I’d love to hear about them. And I hope you’re not as slow a learner as I am! 😉

Image by happypixel19 from Pixabay

6 comments… add one

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  • Francesca Greenoak September 2, 2020, 9:49 am

    This is a useful post.
    I was aware a mask would upset peripheral vision and had prepared for it. Even so, I had a shock leaving our dentist’s, as it appeared there was no hand rail for the steps. There was. I was just unable to see it.
    I realised at once what had happened but at once was not quick enough to avoid the sudden shock.

    • Lauren Hill September 2, 2020, 10:35 am

      Hi Francesca,

      I’m glad you found this post useful. That is my aim for my blog. I’ve been finding I just need to slow down even more than usual when I’ve got a mask on and am navigating around in public. And slowing down is not a bad thing.

  • Gena Booher December 24, 2020, 4:00 am

    Thank you! I’ve wondered if my progressive lenses had progressed to the point where I could see NOTHING around the edges of my glasses, or if I had aged to the point of just flat being clumsy.

    I’m continually banging my hip on student tables in my science classroom, or tripping on their chairs. I’ve become completely unaware of the presence of my mask as a visual obstruction (similarly – we who wear glasses cease to notice their frames)

    I’m NOT clumsy after all! It’s the mask!

    • Lauren Hill December 29, 2020, 9:11 am

      I’m glad I’ve put your mind at ease Gena. Now you know what the issue is 🙂

  • Sue February 9, 2021, 11:03 am

    For me it is walking my dog. We were attacked in the summer, so i have been hyper vigilant.
    If it rains, if it is windy and cold, my glasses fog. I put a tissue in my mask to assorb moisture. Still problematica. This explained why i become disorriented. The mask comes up to my eyes and i cannot see to either side or down.
    I thought it was just me

    • Lauren Hill February 9, 2021, 12:17 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story Sue. Just like when we learned to drive for the first time we had to be told about the blind spot, it makes perfect sense that we don’t realize the blind spot with wearing masks, since it is relatively new.


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