As we head into our second pandemic spring, many of us may be itching to give up our masks. But for the 19.2 million American adults suffering from seasonal allergies, there’s another reason to keep wearing your mask.
While cloth and medical masks do a good job of protecting us from viral particles, studies show masks also can be effective at filtering common allergens, which typically float around in much larger sizes, making them easier to block. Pine tree pollen, for example, is about 800 times larger than the coronavirus, said Dr. David Lang, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic. Even before the pandemic, he advised patients with severe allergies to wear a mask outside, especially for prolonged activities like gardening or yardwork.
Using masks to alleviate allergy symptoms can require a bit of “trial and error,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at N.Y.U. Langone Health. But over all, “if there’s less pollen going into your nose and mouth, you’re less likely to have an allergy attack,” she said.
Israeli researchers recently studied how much difference wearing a mask could make for allergy sufferers with mild, moderate and severe symptoms. Using data collected from 215 nurses who used surgical masks or N95 masks during a two-week period, they found that among the 44 nurses with severe allergy symptoms, nearly 40 percent experienced less sneezing, runny nose and stuffy nose when they wore either a surgical or N95 mask. Among the 91 nurses with moderate symptoms, 30 percent improved when they wore a surgical mask; that rose to 40 percent when they wore an N95. Among the 80 nurses who started the study with mild symptoms, 43 nurses, or about 54 percent, felt their symptoms improved while wearing a surgical or N95 mask, said Dr. Amiel Dror, a physician-scientist at Galilee Medical Center and Bar-Ilan University Azrieli Faculty of Medicine and the lead author on the study.
Mask use was also more effective for the nurses with seasonal allergies than those with year-round symptoms. Wearing a mask did not solve the problem of itchy eyes, according to the September report, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.