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The Top Problems Associated With Wearing a Mask

The Top Problems Associated With Wearing a Mask

Since the coronavirus hit the shores of the United States, just about every aspect of life has changed. Social distancing rules have changed the way people interact with each other and in public spaces, and wearing masks are now a part of the new normal. In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, government agencies and healthcare professionals recommended that masks be utilized by the general public when going into places of business or retail stores, especially if an individual was in a high-risk category. While masks can keep germs from getting into your nose or mouth and can limit your ability to spread germs, if used and worn thoughtlessly, they can cause some negative side effects.

They Alter Your Vision

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth redirects the flow of exhaled air up towards your eyes. The airflow can irritate the eyes, cause them to water, and interfere with clear vision. This creates an uncomfortable feeling and many people feel an increased need to touch their eyes or rub them. However, if your hands are contaminated, you are only spreading the infection to yourself. Decontaminating your hands through proper handwashing techniques is the most effective way to reduce the spread of germs, and avoiding touching your face the second most effective way. Using a strong antibacterial soap for at least 20 seconds after coming into contact with packages, door handles, or public buttons or switches, and when in restaurants or stores is highly advised.

They Create Discomfort

Many masks have a one-size-fits-all approach, but this can make them extremely uncomfortable to use. For those that are able, making your own mask can help create a better fit. Using a cotton material gives the mask better ventilation and lets out more of the moisture released when you breathe or sweat. A mask should be snug to prevent respiratory droplets from coming in or going out. If your mask is too tight, it will hurt your face and give you less room to breathe.

They Can Reduce Your Airflow

It becomes much harder to breathe when you wear a mask, and for those that have breathing conditions like COPD, wearing a mask only serves to worse breathlessness. Additionally, carbon dioxide can get trapped in the mask and re-inhaled during each respiratory cycle. This leads to more frequent deep breathing cycles, circling back to creating more breathlessness and complicating the other areas of discomfort that come from wearing a mask. Continually breathing in contaminated air, as would be the case of a person infected with COVID-19, it could worsen the clinical condition.  Those infected should talk to their healthcare provider about the benefit of remaining in quarantine without a mask on.

They Fog Your Glasses

Exhaling warm into your mask can create fog on your glasses since the air was immediately directed toward the opening above the mask. One way to limit how often this occurs is to wash your glasses in soapy water, but then allow them to air dry. The residue from the soap may form a film that should prevent clogging. If you tighten the top of your mask and loosen the bottom, it can also help direct air down and out instead toward your eyes. Foggy glasses can impair vision when driving, creating a dangerous situation for individuals.

They Irritate the Skin

Those who are prone to dry or sensitive skin will find their condition might get worse when they wear a mask. Any portion of the mask that touches your face could create a skin irritation with all the movement and rubbing that occurs during the day. A quality moisturizing cream, like those used for anti-aging wrinkle prevention, can help rejuvenate the skin to be less prone to irritation. Any makeup that has been applied under the mask may also rub off during the day, reducing air filtration and make breathing more difficult.

They Create a False Sense of Security

Many think that wearing a mask relieves them of the need to take additional precautions against germs and illness. Masks are protective but not fool-proof. Frequent handwashing is still needed, and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces is also highly important. Keeping the distance between yourself and other individuals can also limit how many germs can enter the body.

They Can Spread Disease

A mask that isn’t thoroughly washed and clean can lead to the spread of disease or illness. Touching your mask throughout the day contaminates the fabric, so it should be washed routinely. A hot water cycle in the washing machine takes care of a dirty mask, but when drying or leaving the mask off, be careful where you store it.


A mask that is worn properly can improve your safety against germs. However, if not properly worn or maintained, it can exacerbate the spread of illness.


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About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

6 min read