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Mask Discomfort — And What To Do About It

By March 16, 2021March 26th, 2021Expert Advice Featured Well-being
Young man with misted glasses due to protective mask.

Many people find COVID-19 face masks physically uncomfortable or challenging to wear for a variety of reasons. Yet wearing these masks in public — and wearing them correctly — is as vital now as ever.

But if you’re still having trouble with masking, I encourage you to get creative in tackling these challenges head-on. Here are some effective solutions to the most common masking issues.

Fogging Glasses

When wearing a mask correctly, it’s essential to have a tight seal against your face along all of the mask’s edges, including across the bridge of your nose. You want your breath to go through the mask, not around it — so the mask will filter out the droplets in your breath that can spread COVID-19.

Those same droplets are what causes your glasses to fog up when you’re wearing a mask. So if your glasses are fogging, it’s a good clue that your mask isn’t fitting properly!

You can achieve a better seal by using a flexible metal strip across the bridge of your nose, or by using your glasses to seal the top of your mask — or even by putting sports or medical tape around the edges.

In addition, the Cleveland Clinic suggests washing your glasses with soapy water. The soap can create a film that serves as a fog barrier. But first, try to prevent air from escaping through the top of your mask as much as possible.

Skin Irritation

Masks are available in a variety of materials, and some may be less irritating for your skin than others. If your current mask causes chafing and discomfort, I recommend ordering a mask that’s made of something you haven’t tried before.

For instance, some masks are now being made out of silk…and there’s evidence that silk may be an even more effective COVID-19 barrier than cotton.

Using moisturizer helps reduce skin irritation for some people. Also, it can help to avoid wearing makeup under your mask…wearing less makeup…or switching to a different kind.

The American Academy of Dermatology goes into more detail about all this.

Ear Discomfort

The loops that go around your ears to hold your mask on can get uncomfortable after a while. If you’re having that problem, I suggest getting masks that tie behind your head instead. Then you won’t experience that kind of “ear-itation” anymore.

These masks are also better for individuals who wear hearing aids, which can get in the way when a mask has ear loops.

There are also “ear savers” and other types of mask extenders that accomplish the same result.

Take a look at Nurse.org for additional tips about this issue.

Hot And Clammy

In the summer, when it’s humid and outside temperatures are high, it can be really uncomfortable to wear a mask for any length of time. Here, again, try masks made out of different materials, especially ones that are moisture wicking.

And change masks often…because once a mask gets saturated with moisture (sweat, exhalation, or both), it’s much less comfortable and much less effective.

Asthma and COPD

A research study has found that wearing a mask doesn’t restrict breathing, even in people who have severe breathing disorders. Yet some people with asthma or COPD still feel that they have a lot of trouble breathing with a face mask on.

Just the same, these conditions also place you at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, so it’s even more essential to protect yourself against infection.

So you essentially have two safe choices: either wear a mask, or avoid exposure to people you don’t live with to the greatest extent possible.

Some articles suggest wearing a bandanna if you’re really struggling to breathe…but I can’t recommend that. It won’t keep you safe enough. Some people are trying mask brackets to make them feel more comfortable breathing and talking, but you must make sure they don’t allow any gaps.

Hearing Impairments

For people with hearing impairments, masks pose two major problems: They muffle people’s speech, and they make it impossible to read lips. Social distancing compounds this problem by making it even harder to hear someone.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has these recommendations for talking with a friend who has a hearing difficulty:

  • Make sure you have each other’s full attention.
  • Face each other directly, and make sure there is nothing blocking your view of each other.
  • Talk a little louder, slower, and more clearly than usual, and/or try to move to a quieter location.
  • Use your hands and your body language to help get your point across.
  • Ask the other person if they understood you. If not, rephrase what you are trying to communicate or write it down.
  • Ask what you can do to make communication easier for them.
  • Consider investing in cloth masks that have a clear plastic panel, which will allow people with hearing difficulties to read your lips. The CDC specifically recommends these if you interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

And if you have a hearing difficulty, you can also try to use technology to avoid situations where this will be an issue. For example, you could order food, medicines, and other necessities online whenever possible instead of going to the store. And you could talk to your friends and family over FaceTime or Zoom rather than in person.

We’ve Got This

Like it or not, face masks will probably be with us for quite a while…so make sure yours are working for you — whatever it takes. Luckily, innovators are getting creative in developing many different styles of masks and mask accessories. Some people like 3D-contoured, origami, or tri-fold style face masks that lift the fabric away from your nose and mouth.

Shop around, do your research, and try different things until you’ve successfully overcome your challenges. The CDC recently put out some do’s and don’ts to help you choose wisely.

If it makes you feel any better, think of the health care professionals who work with COVID-19 patients in hospitals every day. They have to wear N95 masks All. Day. Long. It’s not comfortable. And it’s not optional.

If they can do it, we can do it too.

Take care and stay safe.

Stephen Higgins MD, FAAP

About Stephen Higgins MD, FAAP

Dr Higgins graduated from Hahnemann Medical School (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in 1989 and went on to train as a Pediatrician and Neonatologist at DuPont Hospital for Children/Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He spent most of his career as a Neonatologist at Crozer Chester Medical Center where he worked clinically in neonatal intensive care. He was actively involved in medical education rising to the level of Associate Dean at Crozer for Temple Medical School and more recently as the Associate Dean for Drexel’s Clinical Campus at Crozer. In addition to his role as Associate Dean, was the Chief Academic Officer and Pediatric Residency Director at Crozer before joining the Independence Blue Cross family in April of 2019.