Spring is in the air and so are allergens! Summer is quickly approaching and temperatures are starting to warm up. Many people face a yearly struggle with spring time allergies due to a sharp increase in pollen and other allergens. Common allergens, such as pollen, float around in much larger sizes than virus and bacteria particles thus making them easier for masks to block or filter out. According to Dr. David Lang, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic, pine tree pollen particles are actually 800 times larger than COVID-19 particles.
Spring time allergies can be debilitating for some, causing headaches, congestion, sneezing, coughing, sore throats, and plenty of other unpleasant symptoms. According to Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at N.Y.U. Langone Health, using masks to relieve allergy symptoms can require some time and experimentation as it may work to varying degrees depending on the severity of the person’s allergies.
In a recent study conducted in Israel, researchers sought to find out how much difference wearing a face mask could make for people with mild, moderate, and severe allergy conditions. 215 nurses used surgical masks or N95 masks during a two-week period and they found 40% of those with severe allergy symptoms experienced less of symptoms during that two-week timeline. 91 nurses made up the moderate group and 30% reported reduced symptoms, rising to 40% when wearing the N95 mask. The mild group consisted of 80 nurses with 54% feeling their symptoms improve while wearing a mask.
According to the report (published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology), masks were more effective for the nurses with seasonal allergies than those with year-round symptoms and mask usage also had no effect on relieving itchy eyes associated with allergies. Although this study’s results suggest that mask usage can reduce or improve allergy symptoms for some people, the researchers concluded that further study is required.
The degree of protection provided by wearing a face mask varies depending on the fit and, for cloth masks, the weave of the fabric. Indoor allergens such as dust mites or pollen carried in through open windows on spring breezes may still affect you unless you’re wearing a mask at all times. Dr. Sandra Lin, a professor of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, states “It can help, but it’s not necessarily going to take away all your symptoms… pretty much everyone’s wearing masks most of the time now, and people are still getting allergy symptoms.”
Wearing a face mask may not completely solve your allergy problems this spring, but it may help you reduce your existing symptoms. Combining mask wearing with medication and other allergy mitigation efforts may completely ward off allergies especially for this with moderate or mild symptoms. Some other measures you can take to help relieve allergy symptoms are protecting your eyes, washing and changing your masks frequently, finding a well-fitting mask that doesn’t irritate your skin, and seeking assistance from your doctor if your allergy symptoms are severe. Seasonal allergies can be difficult to cope with but taking these steps can improve your symptoms and quality of life during the change of seasons!