Wearing a mask is an essential protective measure against coronavirus infection, but it also comes with associated problems. A mask can damage the skin, cause allergies, or aggravate them in people who already have them. Now, scientists have flagged the fact that some masks contain allergens that can cause skin problems.
At the annual scientific meeting (held virtually) of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) last week, Dr Yashu Dhamija of the University of Cincinnati presented the case of a patient with several skin conditions, which had been under control until April 2020, but which caused new symptoms to appear after he started to wear a mask. And his rashes appeared in places that had come in contact with the elastic parts of the mask. Dhamija recommends, therefore, that people wear masks that do not contain elastic or rubber parts.
The case study
The patient whose case was described in the paper led by Dr Dhamija is a 60-year-old Black man with adult-onset eczema, contact dermatitis and chronic nasal allergies. “Up until April 2020, his skin conditions had been under control, but with mask-wearing, his symptoms began occurring in areas that providers were not yet accustomed to,” Dr Dhamija said in a statement released by the ACAAI.
Initial medication did not relieve the rash. When doctors realised that the skin allergies had begun to flare in April, coinciding with his mask-wearing, and that the rash appeared right where the elastic parts of a mask would rest, doctors prescribed a steroid and an immunosuppressant until the rash resolved. “We also told him to use cotton-based, dye-free masks without elastic. At a follow-up telephone visit one week later, the patient said his rash continued to improve,” co-author Dr Kristin Schmidlin said in the ACAAI statement. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Masks and allergies
Dr Dhamija and Dr Schmidlin noted that common allergens that can affect contact dermatitis are found in masks, elastic bands, and other components of face masks. They suggested that people with existing skin allergies should work with their allergist, who can perform tests to identify specific components in masks that may trigger symptoms.
Allergies caused or aggravated by mask materials have been studied before. The University of Michigan notes that people with allergies to latex may have an allergic reaction to masks made of certain elastic materials. Then there are masks that cause your face to tingle. This usually comes from natural flavours in fragrances, according to University of Utah allergist Douglas Powell, who suggests on the University website: “Cut a small piece, put it behind your ear, and give it about ten to fifteen minutes. If it doesn’t cause any tingling or burning, then it might not cause that on your face.”
If elastic parts cause allergies, Dr Dhamija suggested that people modify the mask and use cotton-based knot ties to hold the mask in place. In a University of Cincinnati statement on his research, Dr Dhamija said: “There are immune reactions to allergens that can be life-threatening but when it comes to contact dermatitis, it doesn’t escalate that far. We can quickly identify the allergen and stop the offending agent. But, some cases can be severe.”
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