Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Carlene Simpson, Loraine Hyde Allison and Shirlene Marshall-Davis | How to prevent mask fatigue – Part II

Published:Friday | November 27, 2020 | 12:12 AMCarlene Simpson, Loraine Hyde Allison and Shirlene Marshall-Davis/Guest Columnists

What can you do to prevent mask fatigue?

The first thing to consider when choosing a mask is the kind of mask you will need. If you are not a healthcare worker requiring extra protection, it is unlikely that you will need to wear a full-filtering mask, or a restrictive mask such as the N95.

Here are some recommendations for preventing mask fatigue:

1. Finding the right fit – Make sure your mask fits comfortably. Research has shown that the most practical and comfortable kind of mask is one that is less restrictive, like a cloth mask or bandana. These types of masks are effective in reducing viral spread and are recommended for warmer climates. While you want your mask to fit snugly around your face to help prevent respiratory microbes from escaping or coming in, you do not want it to be so tight that it compresses your nasal or mouth areas.

2. Finding the right material – Finding the right material and the right fit for your mask is important. Wearing a mask made from cotton is believed to have better ventilation and will trap less of the moisture that builds up from breathing and sweating.

3. Finding the right mask for the right occasion – Doctors have suggested that mask fatigue depends on the type of mask you’re wearing. For example, a thicker mask can be worn when in public spaces around crowds, like in a grocery or hardware store. But if you’re not expecting to be around too many people, a thinner mask is acceptable and can allow for better air circulation.

4. Find the right time - Wearing a mask 24/7 may be harmful. One should therefore wear a mask in enclosed spaces where social distancing is compromised or not possible, or where mandated by the government/health ministry.

5. Wear clean masks – Dispose of your single-use mask or clean your reusable mask after every use, to prevent it being a source of infection. This is especially important if you wear a cloth mask. If using a washing machine, wash with hot water then tumble dry on high heat. If you wash your mask by hand, lather your mask with soap and scrub it for at least 20 seconds, rinse in warm to hot water before putting it to dry, preferably in the sun.

6. Limit ‘mask-wearing time’ – If you must go to a public place, do not stay longer than necessary. Limiting the time spent wearing a mask can prevent the possibility of developing adverse effects. You can take off the mask when you are away from people and/or maintaining a safe distance of up to 5-7 metres. Note that there is no reason for wearing a mask in your own car, unless you have passengers. Shorter duration of mask use can reduce the probability of mask fatigue.

7. Prevent carbon dioxide (CO2) build-up – One recommended way to diminish CO2 build-up is to slightly loosen the bottom section of your mask to facilitate the escape of your exhaled breath, releasing CO2 … while making sure that the section of the mask covering your nose still fits snugly, providing the required protection you need.

8. Avoid wearing make-up with masks – Cleanse your face before and after wearing a mask. It is advised we should avoid applying make-up when wearing a mask. Make-up can rub off on the mask obstructing the ventilation, leading to decreased air filtration, making it harder to breathe.

9. Incorporate intermittent work breaks – If wearing a mask is an employment requirement, intermittent work breaks should be incorporated into your work hours. Every two hours or so, take a break from wearing the mask. Find a safe quiet place away from other persons to be alone and take off the mask for a few minutes, this should help in relieving or avoiding any adverse effects you may experience.

10. Increase fluid intake – Increasing hydration is recommended. Drinking water at least every 2-3 hours can prevent dry mouth and alleviate changes in the odour of the mouth.

11. Rinse your mouth with water – Occasionally removing the mask and rinsing your mouth with water can relieve dryness of the oral mucosa, as well as removing or preventing a build-up of bacteria and suppressing changes in mouth odour.

12. Applying home remedies – If you are prone to nasal congestion while or after wearing a mask, you can apply home remedies to treat those symptoms. Home treatment should focus on keeping your nasal passages and sinuses moist to prevent further irritation. Here are some ways to keeping your nasal passages moist:

i. Use a humidifier or vaporiser – adding moisture into the air can prevent stuffiness or your nose from drying out. You can also linger in a hot shower or put your face over a bowl of steaming hot water with a covering over your head to loosen the mucus in your nose.

ii. Drink lots of fluids – you need fluids to keep your mucus thin. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages like coffee or soda, as they can worsen dehydration and disrupt your immune system.

iii. Since nasal congestion is the result of swollen nasal passages, medicines that shrink the swollen inflamed nasal tissues may help. Shrinking these tissues opens the airways, reducing congestion and improving airflow.

Consult your doctor or pharmacies for the most suitable medication.

The Government of Jamaica has made it mandatory to wear a face mask in public as a precautionary measure to curtailing the spread of COVID-19. This initiative is important because the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted just from speaking, by which tiny virus-filled droplets can float in the air for prolonged periods. Wearing a mask can protect everyone, it keeps you from spreading your germs as well as stopping others from passing their germs to you. Mask-wearing, therefore, in enclosed areas and around other people makes sense. We must be considerate of ourselves and each other while managing the notions of ‘mask fatigue’, as we try to ride the storm in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Carlene Simpson is assistant lecturer at The UWI School of Nursing, Loraine Hyde-Allison is supervisory family nurse practitioner at SERHA, and Shirlene Marshall-Davis is the logistics manager (infection prevention control nurse) at the Emergency Disaster Management and Special Services Branch at the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Send feedback to