Seasonal allergies? Wear your face mask for relief
Masks used to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus are pulling double duty. For the 10% to 20% of the population who suffer from allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies), continuing to mask even after California's mask order has been lifted may be a good thing. Studies show that wearing a surgical face mask reduces the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.
What we know about wearing a mask for allergies
Wearing a mask to relieve symptoms associated with pollen and ragweed is not a new concept. Before COVID-19, people with severe allergies used masks, but only occasionally and typically only on days with extremely high pollen counts.
A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that participants who wore a surgical or N95 mask consistently over a period of two weeks saw improvement in nasal allergy symptoms.
Pollen particles (a common cause of seasonal allergies) range from 10 to 100 micrometers in size, depending on the type of pollen. A standard surgical mask can block particles as small as 3 micrometers. Medical masks, such as N95 masks, are even more effective, catching particles only 0.04 micrometers in size. Even cloth masks with multiple layers will protect you from most pollen.
Keep in mind that masks offer no protection for people with eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis).
How to get the most allergy protection from your face mask
Anytime you cover your nose and mouth, you are blocking allergens. But there are ways to make your mask more effective:
Consider a surgical mask
When it comes to protection from allergens, any mask is better than none. But when choosing which type to wear, consider surgical masks. They are readily available and more effective at filtering particles than most cloth masks. Surgical facemasks can also be thrown away after each use, ensuring that each time you put on a mask, it’s free of allergens.
If you decide to use cloth masks, make sure you have a lot of them so that you can wash your mask after each use.
Avoid touching your mask
It’s easy to undo the protection a mask offers if you aren’t careful taking it off your face. Pollen and other allergens collect on the surface of the mask. Touching it could easily transfer those particles to your eyes, clothing or other surfaces in your home.
To remove your mask, take it off by the ear loops. Then immediately throw it in the wash or garbage before washing your hands.
Use a mask together with other seasonal allergy treatments
A face mask will not resolve all your seasonal allergy issues, but will provide relief if used alongside other preventative measures and treatments. Simple steps you can take to lessen your exposure to pollen include:
- Adding a portable air purifier to your home
- Bathing your cat or dog regularly to remove pollen from their fur
- Changing your clothing after being outside
- Keeping windows and doors closed
- Monitoring pollen counts and limiting time outside when counts are high
If the steps you take at home aren’t providing enough relief, you may want to speak to your primary care physician or allergist about medication. According to the Allergy and Asthma Network, treatments for pollen allergies include:
- Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy
- Antihistamine or corticosteroid nasal spray, which can be used two hours prior to an anticipated allergen exposure
- Oral immunotherapy, a pill form of immunotherapy used to treat grass and ragweed pollen allergies
- Over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications, including antihistamines and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays
If you suspect seasonal allergies or need help managing your allergy symptoms, reach out to your primary care provider.