ALLERGIES, THE 6TH LEADING CAUSE OF CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS
ALLERGIES—SPECIFICALLY ALLERGIC RHINITIS OR THE TYPE OF ALLERGIES THAT ARE COMMONLY CAUSED BY ENVIRONMENTAL IRRITANTS LIKE POLLEN AFFECT A LARGE SWATH OF THE POPULATION.
It’s the 6th leading cause of chronic health conditions. Severity varies with the individual, but many are forced to limit their exposure to the outdoors, at least through the spring and summer when plants are most active. But as the world has taken up the habit of wearing face masks for another reason, we’ve noticed a curious trend. There’s been a slight downtick in the reports of seasonal allergies. Could face masks be helping?
WHAT COVID HAS TAUGHT US ABOUT ALLERGIES AND MASK WEARING
“WITH SO MANY PEOPLE WEARING MASKS OUTDOORS THIS YEAR, WE’VE SEEN PATIENTS REPORTING FEWER SEASONAL ALLERGY ISSUES."
“With so many people wearing masks outdoors this year, we’ve seen patients reporting fewer seasonal allergy issues.” Dr. John Leung, MD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, comments on his observations. “For people with allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma, who develop symptoms after breathing in allergens, masks can be really helpful.”
There isn’t much data to go on, but the anecdotal evidence from allergists like Dr. Leung all seem to point to a positive correlation between wearing a face mask and reducing exposure to seasonal allergens. And it makes sense—pollen is between 10 and 100 micrometers, and many face masks can stop particles as small as 3 micrometers. Covering your nose and mouth is going to make a big difference in reducing your exposure.
HOW TO GET THE MOST PROTECTION
“POLLEN IS HIGHEST EARLY MORNING. SO, I USUALLY ENCOURAGE PEOPLE THAT LIKE TO RUN OR WORK OUT IN THE MORNING, TO AVOID DOING IT OUTSIDE OR DO IT AT A LATER TIME OF THE DAY WHERE POLLEN IS NOT AS HIGH,”
Dr. Jo Reed, an Allergy and Immunology physician at Ochsner Health in Louisiana as she explains that masks can be an added layer of protection in addition to typical treatments.
Not all masks are equal. Choose a well-fitting, quality mask with filters or layers like a surgical mask or N95 respirator. Cloth masks work, but in one study that was conducted in Israel at the beginning of the pandemic, they were the least effective in mitigating typical allergy symptoms. You should also be mindful not to touch your mask and to wash your hands after removing your mask because pollen and other allergens can rest on the surface of the mask and then be transferred to your face when you remove your mask.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FREQUENT USE
“YOU REALLY NEED TO WEAR A MASK A LOT OF THE TIME TO GAIN A BENEFIT.” DR. DROR EXPLAINS IN HER PAPER PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL OF ALLERGY AND CLINICAL IMMUNOLOGY. “THE NURSES IN THE STUDY WERE PROBABLY WEARING MASKS ALL DAY BECAUSE OF WORK.”
In fact, everyone has really been wearing face masks much more often due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the effects noticed by other doctors might also be less apparent if we go back to our pre-pandemic lifestyles. But for severe seasonal allergy sufferers, every bit of relief helps.
MAXIMISING THE BENEFIT OF MASK WEARING
FACE MASKS PROVIDE AN ADDED LAYER OF PROTECTION FOR SEASONAL ALLERGY SUFFERERS, PARTICULARLY WHEN BEING OUTDOORS.
Well fitting filtration masks are best when used in conjunction with, and not instead of, other treatments. Patients should continue to take medications as directed by their doctors, as well as any other measures that are working to alleviate their symptoms. Face masks are an effective solution to reduce exposure to environmental allergens like pollen and mold spores.