As the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we armour ourselves before leaving the safe shelter of home. Mask, gloves and – always, always – sanitizer.
But the price of the barrier between the virus and ourselves is a series of often overlooked but chronic problems such as foggy glasses, ear aches, anxiety and –in some cases – acne. We asked the doctors for ways to combat each one.
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How to stop glasses from fogging over
Ever has that burning, itching feeling that comes from an exhaled breath blown directly into your eye? Yes well, it’s common enough with masks that may not be moulded properly to your face.
So how do you know a mask fits well? Anil Grover, Specialist Internal Medicine, Prime Hospital, says : “A seal check is a quick check performed by the wearer each time the mask is put on. It determines if the mask is properly seated to the face or if it needs to be readjusted.”
There are 2 types of seal checks: the positive pressure check and the negative pressure check.
Positive pressure check: Don and adjust the mask for proper fit. Then, exhale gently into the face piece. “The fit is considered satisfactory if a slight positive pressure can be built up inside the face piece without any evidence of outward leakage of air at the seal,” says the doctor.
Negative pressure check: “Don and adjust the mask for a proper fit; then inhale gently so that the facepiece collapses slightly, and hold the breath for ten seconds. If the face piece remains slightly collapsed and no inward leakage of air is detected, the tightness of the mask is considered satisfactory,” explains Grover.
Other tips to keep the fogging at bay:
1. “Mould the nose bridge at the top of your surgical mask to your face to reduce the gap that allows warm moist air up to the glasses,” says Dr Aamrah Shah, consultant family medicine at American hospital Dubai.
2. “You can apply a strip of tape that’s specially designed for use on skin to the top edge of the mask to close the gap,” says Shah.
3. Wash your glasses with soap and water then dry them with a microfiber cloth,” she adds.
4. “Slightly moistening a tissue, folding it and placing it under the top edge of the mask also does the trick,” she says.
How to keep the maskne away
As anyone with pimple-prone or oily skin wearing a mask all day will tell you, it is like calling for a break out. With make-up and oil gland excesses clogging up the pores along with the rise in temperature and friction between mask and face, even those who usually don’t suffer from acne may suddenly see a few pimples popping up. This condition is called ‘maskne’.
Acne usually develops when pores get clogged by oil, dead skin cells, makeup, dirt, or bacteria. Masks also provide the perfect humid environment for bacteria to grow in our skin, which can lead to a breakout, whiteheads, or pimples that can vary in size and type, depending on how infected they get.
Shah says: “Since we’re going to be wearing masks for a while, managing mask acne isn’t going to be a one-time deal. It will require developing both treatment and ongoing prevention habits to keep your skin clear.”
What causes acne?
“Acne usually develops when pores get clogged by oil, dead skin cells, makeup, dirt, or bacteria. Masks also provide the perfect humid environment for bacteria to grow in our skin, which can lead to a breakout, whiteheads, or pimples that can vary in size and type, depending on how infected they get.”
Try this routine
Adopting a skin-care routine including cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing, and wearing sunscreen can help.
Good mask-wearing hygiene is key to ensuring a healthy face. Try this:
1. Wear a clean mask.
2. Wash your face before putting on a mask and after taking it off.
3. “If you have acne-prone or extremely oily skin, use a face wash that has salicylic acid so that the excess oil and dead skin can be removed,” says Dr Grover.
4. “Dry skin is another common face mask-related skin issue, so make sure to moisturize immediately after washing your face,” says Shah.
5. “Avoid products like harsh chemical peels can make the skin more sensitive and more prone to breaking out,” she adds.
6. “Non-comedogenic or oil-free products underneath the mask can help reduce chances of breakouts,” adds Dr Shah.
7. “To reduce skin problems, look for masks that offer the following: A tight, but comfortable fit, soft, natural, and breathable fabric, such as cotton,” says Dr Grover.
Ear pain and masks
The problem with things tugging at the ears, no matter how essential, is that sometimes they can end up hurting your ear and giving you a headache. There’s a simple solution to this issue, finds Dr Grover.
1. Use strap clips, headband, or cap with buttons or ear protectors.
2. “Non-elastic masks instead of elastic loops can be used to decrease the irritation on back of the ears,” he adds.
“Wearing a mask can also be anxiety-provoking because of what it has come to represent,” says Shah.
“Whether you’re someone who suffers from mask-induced anxiety, panic attacks, or sensory processing issues, know that it’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable in a mask - and there are techniques you can use to help deal with this anxiety.
Remember, anxiety is normal - and it will pass. Try to remember why you’re wearing the mask in the first place. Wearing a mask is a gesture of respect and kindness to others and remembering this may help you feel better about wearing one.
If your anxiety or panic disorder is too much to handle, never hesitate to seek support from a licensed therapist regarding your mental health concerns. Remember, even though you should still wear a mask in public, there are simple steps to take to reduce these anxious feelings and improve your mask-wearing experience,” she adds.
Both doctors call for the use of simple breathing techniques that can help while wearing a mask.
Try this, says Shah.
• Breathe in for a count of 4 seconds
• Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds
• Exhale slowly, for as long as you can
“The reason this simple breathing technique can help ease mask-induced anxiety is because breathing slowly and holding in your breath actually signals to your brain that you have more oxygen than you think. This can help people not only breathe easier in masks but also prevent a brewing panic attack,” she says.
“Remember, anxiety is normal - and it will pass. Try to remember why you’re wearing the mask in the first place. Wearing a mask is a gesture of respect and kindness to others and remembering this may help you feel better about wearing one.”
When using the washing machine, he says,”Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the mask. Make sure to completely dry the mask after washing.”