Life Wellbeing Face-mask hygiene: Watch your step, mask-related injuries and ailments are soaring

Face-mask hygiene: Watch your step, mask-related injuries and ailments are soaring

Watch: Everything you need to know about face masks.
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Of late, with the Delta variant proving itself to be almost sneakily contagious – and the rise of mystery cases and ‘fleeting contact’ – wearing a mask when out and about is a must.

But new research serves as a reminder that masks can bring about injury or side effects – which can be avoided with common sense.

These were mainly skin complaints, allergies and falls – and even car crashes.

One of these involved a man reportedly dying after crashing his car into a pole, possibly as a consequence of reduced oxygen levels after wearing a a mask while driving for an extended period with the windows up.

Worth also noting are reports, outside of the US and not included in the study, of two Chinese high school boys collapsing and dying after running flat out during exercise sessions while wearing face masks.

What did the research involve?

The study, from the US, looked at how many such injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments – and it found a dramatic spike in 2020.

Not a great surprise, given that – in healthier times – face masks tend to be worn by medical professionals, factory workers and a relatively small number of commuters.

According to the researchers, from 2016 to the end of 2019, an average of 200 such injuries were treated annually in hospitals.

It’s not a stretch to say that the real extent of injury was considerably higher – especially considering that most people won’t consider a skin outbreak, no matter how dramatic, as an emergency.

Allergic dermatitis of ‘maskne’ was a common problem. Photo: Getty

In 2020, there were nearly 5000 hospital visits – which suggests a tremendous number of problems went unreported, no matter if they were attended to by pharmacists or GPs.

The injuries occurred across all ages.

What was the breakdown of injuries?

The most common were skin irritations, rashes and allergic reactions.

These include:

  • Acne mechanica, playfully called ‘maskne’. This is caused by
    moving the mask around with your fingers and the pressure of a mask on the skin. This is exacerbated by the overall stress of the times we’re living in, and the stress of just walking among people who might make you ill.
  • Heat rash caused by blocked pores and sweat under the mask.
  • Rosacea and dermatitis can be triggered or made worse by a change in the microbiome of the skin. Masks essentially create a new environment for bacteria.

All of the above can be treated by changing the kind of mask you’re wearing or with medication from your doctor.

According to a report in Australian Doctor, about 14 per cent of mask-related injuries were due “to obscured vision and included falls and motor vehicle accidents”.

The answer here is for people to pay attention when they’re walking in the street. COVID-19 has created a new environment to traverse, and requires paying more attention about where we put our feet and how fast we get about. Slow down and be aware of the condition of the footpath.

Five per cent were in children “who had eaten a piece of a mask or stuck a piece into their nose or other orifice”.

Three per cent of injuries, all in elderly people, were due to falls from bending over to pick up a dropped mask.

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