While wearing face masks has become imperative for containing the spread of coronavirus, wearing it for prolonged periods may result in pain and scars on the skin, especially on the ears. The elastic loops attached to the masks to keep it in place can rub the ears and skin, a phenomenon called ‘ear fatigue’ or ear pain.
Adding to the simple and sustainable innovations that people and organisations are coming up to make wearing masks comfortable are ear protectors or ear guards.
Talking about such an initiative with indianexpress.com, Ratheesh S, Chennai-based founder of Prakruthi Products, said a recent news item on frontline workers facing difficulties in wearing the tight elastic-loop masks besides other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), prompted the idea. “We are compelled to wear a mask outdoors to protect ourselves. Even I have felt the pain when I wear one for hours and I can only imagine how much worse it must be for them (frontline workers). I’m sure there are many who are bearing the pain and continuing their duties, assuming there is no other way,” he said.
“As I was surfing the internet, I found a few plastic and wool-knitted versions, which are time-consuming (to make) and are available in the international market. At Prakruthi, our main motto is to provide an eco-friendly option. We developed a simple prototype with cotton cloth, as the materials are easy to source from the local market even if more demand arises. Also, it’s to be noted that a few studies suggest the virus remains active in plastic material longer than the cloth fabric,” he added.
The main feature of the ear protectors that can be used with “disposable surgical masks or any mask with ear loops” is that it “eliminates the need of uncomfortable tight strings” around the ears, which cause friction with the skin through extensive use. “These ear protectors will alleviate the pressure that elastic loops put on your ears by allowing you to loop the mask behind your head. It can free your ears and provide ease at work,” he said.
Depending on one’s convenience, it can be worn on the back or kept to a side.
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While similar products are available in some parts of the world, Ratheesh’s focus has been on making them “completely recyclable and sustainable”. “They use 100 per cent cotton fabric, are environmental-friendly, recyclable and handmade in India. These ear protectors are washable and reusable. It will not harm the environment when disposed after reusing it multiple times,” he said.
Ratheesh began Prakruthi Products in the year 2018, out of Chennai’s Pallavaram area, with eco-friendly paper bags, which included plantable and recycled kraft versions.
With his small team, Ratheesh hopes the initiative finds takers, as he reaches out to institutions, personal contacts and social media platforms. “We are trying to reach out to hospitals, mainly through emails, and await a positive response so we can provide them our ear protectors. Currently, we have prototypes ready and can mass produce when the demand arises, with our resources,” he said.
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