Wearing a face mask covering the nose and mouth – previously thought to be the necessary equipment for bank robbers – has proven a boon in reducing COViD-19 infection. Now, researchers from the Galilee Medical Center and the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv) have found that masks can protect people who suffer from seasonal allergies
Studying how much of a difference wearing a mask could make for allergy sufferers with mild, moderate, and severe symptoms, they found that this practice can reduce the symptoms in some people. In the US alone, over 19 million American adults suffer from seasonal allergies
The researchers collected data from 215 nurses who wore surgical masks or N95 masks over a two-week period. The survey was distributed on April 5, 2020, for two weeks during the early spring in Israel where seasonal allergens are widely dispersed. This period also corresponds to when initial social distancing and quarantine regulations were implemented in Israel.
Among 44 of the nurses who had severe allergy symptoms, nearly two-fifths suffered from less sneezing, runny nose and stuffy nose when they wore either of the two masks. Among the 91 nurses with moderate symptoms, 30% improved when they wore a surgical mask and 40% improved when they wore an N95 mask. Forty-three (about 54%) of the 80 nurses who had mild allergy symptoms felt their symptoms improved while wearing either of the two masks.
Mask use was also found to be more effective for nurses with seasonal allergies compared to those with symptoms year-round. The findings were reported in the September 2020 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology under the title “Reduction of allergic rhinitis symptoms with face mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“During COVID-19 face masks gained normalcy in many countries. Masks not only reduced COVID transmission, but we also saw fewer cases of common cold and influenza. While allergen particles are 100 times bigger than viruses, it is reasonable that our face mask filters such allergens and keeps them outside the respiratory system,” said Dr. Amiel Dror, who led the study with Dr. Eyal Sela, of the Galilee Medical Center and the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine. Additional participants included Dr. Eran Alon and colleagues from nearby Sheba Medical Center and other institutions.
“While we all hope that we will defeat the pandemic sooner or later, people with allergies may still maintain casual use of face masks outside or around dust and mold, and other common potent allergens. While we see a significant improvement of allergic rhinitis symptoms among mask users, people with persistent symptoms are advised to check with their physicians regarding other possible treatments to alleviate their allergies,” Dror added. “Wearing a mask also makes the air in our nasal cavities warmer and more humid,” he continued. “We know that dry air and cold air sometimes have the ability to elicit a reaction in the nose. This is an extra benefit of wearing a mask.”
Though the research suggests that wearing a mask can reduce allergy symptoms, the researchers say that further studies are needed to affirm the findings. It may be that the nurses suffered less from their allergies because, when they were off their jobs, they were staying home and avoiding crowds during lockdowns so they were less exposed to allergens in the environment. But the fact that wearing a mask covering both the nose and the mouth reduced nasal symptoms but not irritation of the eyes hints that that wearing a mask probably did minimize many allergy symptoms.