Are people allergic to the materials in surgical masks?

Over the years, the surgical mask has proven itself to be an effective barrier against unknown viruses and bacteria. Healthcare workers have been using the surgical mask on countless occasions. This means the surgical mask is safe to use in this time of need.

However, there have been claims that the surgical mask can induce irritation. Photos have gone viral online portraying the effects of wearing masks like the surgical mask.

What are the materials of the surgical mask?

For the mask, it is mostly made from polypropylene. Polypropylene is a non-woven fabric and is made from plastic. But this variety of plastic is what makes the surgical mask water-proof and non-toxic. The center part of the surgical mask is a melt-blown fabric that is non-woven and non-toxic. The nose wire of the surgical mask is made from either plastic or aluminum. To prevent skin contact, the nose wire of the surgical mask is embedded on the inside. The elastic bands of the surgical mask are soft and non-toxic.

Should people be allergic to the materials of the surgical mask?

Not exactly. Because all of the materials of the surgical mask are non-toxic. In addition, the manufacturers of the surgical mask have a standard operating procedure before creating the mask. One of which is making sure that the materials are sterile and disinfected. After the surgical masks have assembled, manufacturers go through another process of sterilization to make sure that the surgical masks are safe.

If the materials are safe and non-toxic, where do the claims come from?

The idea of the surgical mask as a contributor to irritation comes from those who wear the mask for a longer period of time. Wearing the surgical mask for a long time can induce irritation and other forms of inflammation.

The nose wire of the surgical mask can induce pressure ulcers on the face. The elastic bands of the surgical mask can induce discomfort and inflammation on the surface of the ears. The surgical mask itself can promote maskne or mask acne.

These claims are from healthcare workers. Months after the pandemic started to take over the world, healthcare workers have been using surgical masks to keep themselves protected. They are not only using one surgical mask. They put these multiple surgical masks on daily, without doffing or putting off.

This is because the surgical mask is not as efficient as the N95 mask. The surgical mask only offers 70% -80% filtration efficiency. This is not enough. This is why a healthcare worker dons 3 to 4 surgical masks on a daily shift.

What should people do to prevent any effects of wearing surgical masks?

The surgical mask does not contribute to any form of irritation. But the environment, the longevity of utility, and hygiene are the contributors. People can prevent signs of irritation by doing these things:

Clean your face.

Before putting on the surgical mask, people should have a clean face. A clean face means a washed face. People should wash their face with soap of their choice and water. People can apply a moisturizer to help keep the moisture intact.

 Wash hands.

Washing the hands properly can help prevent viruses from multiplying. People should use germicidal soaps in washing their hands. To maintain the cleanliness of the hands, apply rubbing alcohol as frequently as possible.

 Minimize going outside.

Minimizing outside ventures can keep people from wearing the surgical mask for a long time. Also, people are mostly protected at home. No contact with other people means no possible viral transmission.

Another separate concern of other people is that the surgical mask can be a contributor to any breathing difficulty. Healthcare workers have been donning multiple surgical masks on a daily basis. This is enough evidence certifying that the surgical mask cannot make breathing difficult for a person.

To further dispel the claim, an experiment was conducted by a group of researchers in an American university. The researchers put on multiple layers of surgical masks. With a pulse oximeter on, the researchers regulated the oxygen levels in the blood. The oxygen levels remained at 98%, which is a normal reading.

Another experiment was done by the same group of researchers. This time the researchers used a capnometer. The capnometer measures carbon dioxide inside the body. The researchers donned multiple layers of surgical masks. The carbon dioxide levels were at 31.6 milliliters, which is a normal reading.

With all the evidence, the surgical mask does not contribute to any breathing difficulty.

What should people do if they do not want to wear the surgical mask?

There are other things that people can do if they do not want to wear a surgical mask. People can choose a cloth mask over a surgical mask. After all, the cloth mask is way more convenient and comfortable than the surgical mask. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the public to wear cloth masks. This is to help preserve the scarce supply of the surgical mask.

If people do not want to wear protective masks in general, staying at home is the best solution. By staying at home, lessens their risk of getting contact with the virus. Also, this also prevents them from becoming a potential host of the virus. With fewer hosts, more people can be protected and the virus can die a natural cause. 

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