If You Have Allergies, Don’t Ditch Your Mask Yet

If You Have Allergies, Don’t Ditch Your Mask Yet
Photo: leungchopan, Shutterstock

If you’re fully vaccinated, you may be looking forward to using your masks less and less often. But if you have allergies to dust or pollen, it might be worth keeping them around.

Pollen particles vary in size, with some wind-borne tree and grass pollens as small as 10 to 20 microns. To give a sense of scale, N95 masks get their name because they filter out 95% of particles that are 2.5 microns in size. Since pollen is significantly larger than the droplets and particulates that masks filter out, that means those masks are useful against pollen and similar allergens as well. That includes surgical masks and many types of cloth masks. Chances are, whatever mask you’ve been wearing for COVID-19 protection is probably effective against allergens as well.

Allergists have noted during the pandemic that their patients have an easier time managing allergy symptoms when they wear masks outdoors (during pollen seasons) and in other areas where airborne allergens (like dust) may be present.

If you want to use a mask to prevent allergy symptoms, choose one that provides good filtration (like a multi-layered woven cotton mask, or a surgical or N95 mask) and wear it so that it fits tightly against your face. If there are gaps between the mask and the sides of your nose, for example, you could be sucking pollen-filled air in through those gaps.

The mask won’t be a perfect solution, since some allergens may still irritate your eyes and skin, but it will likely help a lot with the allergens you would otherwise breathe in. And if you have asthma in addition to your allergies, you might find (like I did!) that wearing a mask on cool days can help prevent the wheezing that comes with exercise-induced asthma. So even if you aren’t having allergy issues right now, save those masks for the cool weather and ragweed pollen you might encounter this fall.

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