Is face mask wearing, amid Covid-19 pandemic, beneficial or causing any harm? Here's what health experts have to say
Face masks became the new fashion accessory and the most effective tool in the battle against coronavirus as it became important that you opt for a covering which offers sufficient protection. Public mask-wearing resulted in notable drops in Covid-19 cases as a face mask comes handy not only because it blocks the large respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes and prevents passing of the virus to others but also because it blocks the smaller airborne particles or aerosols, which are produced when people talk or exhale.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Vasant Nagvekar, Co-Director, Infectious Diseases at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, “With the increase in cases in some parts of the country, it will be a healthy habit to have your masks on at least in indoor spaces and may have some relaxation outdoor where there is free air circulation. It not only will help a person from Covid but other viral infections and from airborne diseases like Tuberculosis and other airborne illnesses. My take is to continue to wear masks as a healthy habit in crowded and indoor spaces.”
Echoing the same, Dr Harish Chafle, Senior Consultant - Pulmonology and Critical Care at Parel Mumbai's Global Hospital, said, “Masks are required in enclosed locations all throughout the world in this Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. Although sometimes difficult, the habit is becoming part of our lifestyle. Wearing a mask appears to have more drawbacks than benefits for many people. There are advantages and disadvantages in any circumstance. Wearing a mask, which is recommended by public health authorities, has an advantage that cannot be overlooked: it protects ourselves, and we protect others by properly using it.”
He added, “You've most likely heard about the drawbacks of wearing a mask. Breathing becomes more difficult, hearing becomes more difficult, and your glasses fog up, among other things. We agree with this, but we would argue that the benefits are significantly more essential in a pandemic situation like the current one. Simple solutions exist to keep your glasses from fogging up, but you must be aware of them to avoid impeding your vision. A condensation effect causes fogging, such as when you take a shower and the mirrors fog up. To fix this, place a tissue or paper towel between the top edge of your mask and your skin to absorb any excess moisture.”
It is no secret that now, the use of masks is a part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. Masks can be used for protection of healthy persons i.e. worn to protect oneself when in contact with an infected individual or for source control i.e. worn by an infected individual to prevent onward transmission or both.
Dr Sushil Jain, Pulmonary consultant at Masina Hospital, said, "The use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection. Potential advantages of mask use by healthy people in the general public include: reduced spread of respiratory droplets containing infectious viral particles (including from infected persons before they develop symptoms), reduced potential for stigmatisation and greater of acceptance of mask wearing (whether to prevent infecting others or by people caring for Covid-19 patients in non-clinical settings), making people feel they can play a role in contributing to stopping spread of the virus, encouraging concurrent transmission prevention behaviours such as hand hygiene and not touching the eyes, nose and mouth, preventing transmission of other respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis and influenza and reducing the burden of those diseases during the pandemic).
Pointing out the potential disadvantages of mask use by healthy people in the general public, Dr Sushil Jain said that it causes, “Headache and/or breathing difficulties depending on type of mask used, development of facial skin lesions, irritant dermatitis or worsening acne when used frequently for long hours, difficulty with communicating clearly especially for persons who are deaf or have poor hearing or use lip reading, discomfort, a false sense of security leading to potentially lower adherence to other critical preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene, poor compliance with mask wearing, waste management issues like improper mask disposal leading to increased litter in public places and environmental hazards, difficulty wearing masks especially for children, developmentally challenged persons, those with mental illness or breathing problems, those who have had facial trauma or recent oral surgery and those living in hot and humid environments>”
He added, “Many people with asthma have questioned if it is safe for them to wear a mask. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), there is no evidence that wearing a face mask can worsen your asthma. Data from a recent study found that wearing a face mask does not affect oxygen saturation levels, whether the wearer has asthma or not. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that wearing a mask does not raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the air you breathe.”
He revealed that on the rumours about CO2, the CDC says, "Cloth masks and surgical masks do not provide an airtight fit across the face. The CO2 escapes into the air through the mask when you breathe out or talk. CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes Covid-19 are much larger than CO2, so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn mask."
Suggesting an alternative, he said, “At present, face shields are considered to provide a level of eye protection only and should not be considered as an equivalent to masks with respect to respiratory droplet protection and/or source control. In the context of non-availability or difficulties wearing a non-medical mask (in persons with cognitive, respiratory or hearing impairments, for example), face shields may be considered as an alternative, noting that they are inferior to masks with respect to droplet transmission and prevention. If face shields are to be used, ensure proper design to cover the sides of the face and below the chin.”