This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078
Wearing a face mask can have some benefits at helping to prevent allergic rhinitis, but they can also exacerbate symptoms if they are not worn or cared for correctly.
Allergic Rhinitis is a global health problem that affects around 1 in every 5 people in the UK.
When your body incorrectly identifies allergens as a threat it releases ‘histamine’, a substance that causes allergic symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, nose, or mouth, postnasal drip, frequent throat clearing, and a cough.
Several allergens are associated, including dust mites; pollens like grass, tree and weed pollen; animal dander; and mould.
Allergies and Mask Wearing
Airborne allergens like dust mites, pollen, and fungal spores cause irritation when they are inhaled, or when they land on or are rubbed into your eyes and face.
However, since mask wearing became common place in 2020, experts have noticed a decrease in allergic symptoms and their severity.
A surgical face mask can filter airborne particles that are larger than 0.3 micrometres. An N95 mask can filter particles that are as small as 0.04 micrometres.
Pollen is typically between 10 and 100 micrometres, fungal spores are usually between 2 and 50 micrometres, and house dust mite faeces is between 10 and 40 micrometres.
Despite enhanced filtration in N95 respirators, they haven’t been noted to provide any additional reduction in allergic symptoms over surgical masks.
Care for your mask
Making sure you care for your masks properly is important to avoid COVID-19 transmission, but it also helps you to avoid allergens. If they are not looked after properly, masks have the potential to exacerbate symptoms.
If you regularly re-use your mask without washing it, pollen may be building up on your mask, meaning you’re putting more pollen onto your face. Also, if you incorrectly handle and remove the mask, you may touch the outer surface where virus droplets, pollen, etc, has fallen. This can then be rubbed into the eyes, mouth, and nose to cause allergic symptoms.
Make sure you wash your mask after every use and practice proper technique to put your mask on and take it off.