How to Wear a Face Mask Comfortably
There’s no question that wearing face masks in public significantly reduces the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Our doctors in Delray Beach are dismayed that such a simple and effective health measure has become politicized. It shouldn’t be, any more than the government’s mandating speed limits on highways or non-smoking restrictions in buildings.
At the beginning of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discouraged the use of face coverings by the general public because:
- there was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was desperately needed by health care workers;
- it wasn’t known until several months into the pandemic that the virus was transmitted primarily by respiratory droplets; and,
- researchers initially underestimated how long asymptomatic or presymptomatic people could infect others (up to 14 days after infection).
“Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms,” the CDC says now.
Already, an estimated 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases were prevented in the 16 states that mandated mask use between April 8 and May 15, according to a study by the University of Iowa.
And according to a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation IMHE), if 95 percent of Americans wore face masks in public, it could prevent 33,000 deaths in the next three months, 7,870 deaths prevented in Florida alone.
“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50 percent,” said IMHE Director Dr. Christopher Murray,” and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk.”
Everyone says they want things to return to the way they were before the pandemic, but some are refusing to take the one step that could help us move most rapidly back to a semblance of normalcy.
“For pretty much every state that we’ve looked at, if we can get people to wear masks, we can not only save lives but . . . we can also save the economy because we can keep businesses going,” Murray added.
Some have problems
Politics aside, however, some people experience problems with wearing face masks, from so-called “maskne” (facial breakouts) to sore ears. Part of this is due to not being used to having a covering on their face, and part is due to the type of mask or the way it’s worn.
There are, however, some people who should not wear masks, including children under the age of two, and those with breathing problems such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which may make breathing more difficult when wearing a mask.
These people are the exceptions, however, so we want to suggest ways to make wearing a mask more comfortable.
- Breathing problems
As we said, some of the breathing problems associated with wearing a mask are psychological (fear of having the face covered), while others are physical.
While some anxious persons may begin to feel increased anxiety or as if they are suffocating when wearing a mask, they may just need some time to get used to wearing a face covering. But if you feel you need some air, by all means, remove the mask, outdoors, if possible, or at least as far from others as you can. Just be sure to remove and replace it by the ear straps, not by touching the center of the mask.
The most breathable fabric is 100 percent cotton, so make sure to use only cotton masks. You can buy them readily or make your own from cotton T-shirts or sheets. Bandanas worn tied around the back of the head may also help, because they cut down respiratory transmission while also allowing some air in at the bottom of the neck.
Since any type of mask short of a properly fitted N-95 surgical mask is liable to have gaps, it doesn’t matter if it’s not tightly fitted to your face. Just keep it snug to prevent respiratory droplets from spreading when you talk, cough, or sneeze, but don’t keep it so tight that you can’t breathe easily.
- Sore ears
There are a number of solutions to the problem of sore or chafed ears associated with wearing a mask, many of them available on Etsy.com.
You can buy (or make your own) headbands with buttons above the ears to which you can attach the straps of your mask, or use S-ring hooks, or other similar devices that relieve pressure on your ears. And if possible, try to find a mask that has adjustable ties.
- Be sure to wash your hands before putting on your mask and after removing it.
- In case the mask becomes damp from perspiration, you may want to carry an extra one to replace it with.
- Don’t wear makeup beneath your mask, but do wear sunscreen, as UVA and UVB rays can penetrate the cloth.
- If you’re experiencing breakouts, use gentle cleansers before and after wearing your mask, and apply a light moisturizer throughout the day to reduce the chance of irritation.
As Florida vies for the top hot spot of COVID-19 infections in the country, we urge our patients to wear face coverings in public and practice social distancing.
As the current U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted recently, “Some feel face coverings infringe on their freedom of choice—but if more wear them, we’ll have MORE freedom to go out.”