Mask wearing can help with allergy symptoms

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- It’s that time of the year again, Spring has finally sprung. Flowers are starting to bloom, buds are starting to pop up, grass is growing, and of course pollen comes along with that.

“It really hit its peak around mid-April to early May so we’ve been seeing allergy suffers now for a few weeks. I think that the expectation is that we will get worse from here on out,” South Bend Clinic Allergy Specialist Dr. James Harris said.

Pollen is the most common allergen that causes allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchiness, cough, congestion and more. Allergy experts have said recently that close to 24 million Americans are experiencing less of these symptoms this year when a mask is worn. Local experts say it’s just another reason to mask up.

“I think it’s a really unexpected benefit, that masks will benefit allergies which they do,” Dr. Harris said.

“It stands to reason that the mask you wear to protect in terms of Covid will also protect against seasonal allergies,” St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said.

But what makes mask wearing an extra benefit to those with allergies?

“The pollen has to actually go up your nose and your eyes and everything so anything that provides a barrier between you and the pollen can be very effective and stops the reaction almost completely,” Dr. Harris said.

While wearing a disposable or cloth mask will do the trick just fine, Dr. Harris said N95 masks are the recommended choice 

“The N95 mask is the gold standard but any kind of mask is going to make a difference and will help control the inflow of pollen and other things that may be irritating,” Dr. Harris said. “Adding a mask as a protective device for the allergies is just one more dimension of the way we can treat allergies now because last year if we suggested it to somebody, they’d laugh at us and now people say well I guess I’ll just keep wearing it.”

“If your behavior has been masking inside, and taking it off when you go out, I would encourage people to leave it on and see if it makes a difference in their symptoms because it’s certainly a no risk intervention there,” Dr. Fox said.

With COVID symptoms being so similar to some of those allergy symptoms some experience, how can you decipher the two? It all comes down to a few things. Dr. Mark Fox said it's important to know whether or not seasonal symptoms are common for you during this time of year, and whether or not you’ve been in low-transmitting areas. If allergies are always expected for you and aren’t, and haven’t been in highly exposed areas, you more than likely don’t have COVID. Of course, it’s still better to be safe than sorry and get tested.

Dr. Harris said another factor is the timeframe on how long your symptoms last for. Seasonal allergies for example, usually can last for the whole entire season.

While mask wearing is encouraged to help lessen your allergy symptoms, there are some challenges.

“I think one of the challenges though is, it’s most effective if people are wearing the mask outside where they’re most likely to encounter the allergens, or pollen or whatever. And that’s usually when most people are taking a mask break, so there’s a tradeoff there,” Dr. Fox said.

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