Margaret Yen-Chuang Matthews: Show some mask love
While COVID-19 is untreatable and without a vaccine, masks can help save lives. As Dr. Roger Hicks, MD wrote in a column in previous weeks, wearing a fabric mask is one way to say “I care” to others around you. Because COVID-19 may take up to two weeks to develop symptoms, you might unknowingly be contagious and pass the virus. Wearing a cloth face mask, in addition to meticulous hand washing and hygiene may prevent you from being a vector in the spread of the virus. Walking around in a store and seeing other people wearing a mask, gives some comfort to those that are susceptible or concerned around you and helps keep them safer. Unfortunately, I often see people wearing masks improperly; in a way that provides less protection, or causes pain or discomfort to the wearer. This article will give you tips on how to properly fit, care for, and wear a mask for maximum effectiveness, comfort, and also how to deal with some of the side effects of longer term mask wearing.
In order for the mask to do the best job of protecting you and others, you need a good fit. Your entire nose and chin should be covered by the mask to entrap microdroplets from heavy breathing, talking, sneezing, laughing and coughing. The nose wire should hug your nose bridge so that there is no space between your mask and your face. The tighter the seal the less your glasses will fog up as well. If you wear glasses, your frames should sit on top of the mask over your nose.
Wearing a mask for long periods of time may be uncomfortable. If your mask is too small or too tight, the ear straps will pull your ear forward, putting pressure on your jaw and head. You may also jut your chin and face forward to try to keep the mask on while talking. The muscles of the jaw or temporomandibular joint attach on the temples of the skull, which can result in headaches. To alleviate this pain, make sure your ear straps are the right length for your head. A mask that can tie behind your head will reduce the pull on your ears.
To alleviate some pressure on your face, head, and neck, as well as to give your respiratory system a break, try to reduce the amount of time you are wearing the mask to moments of higher risk. You should always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer both before and after touching your mask, face, or hair. Try not to touch the cloth portion of your mask as that increases your risk, just touch the straps. You might take off the mask while driving by yourself or with your household members, to give your face a break, and place it in a paper bag to avoid spreading germs from your mask to other surfaces. To prevent yourself from spreading the virus, the most important times to wear a mask are when you are less than 6 feet apart from people, frequently passing others indoors or on a sidewalk, or when you are in contact with objects that other people will also handle, such as food in grocery stores and purchase items in other stores. Risk is lower when you are at home or only with members of your healthy household family.
Choosing the right type of mask is also important. There are many options on the market, including ones with a filter to provide additional protection, you should avoid masks with exhaust valves, as they do not filter your breath going out.
If wearing a mask results in shortness of breath or dizziness, please contact your doctor about your safety wearing a cloth face mask. You might consider curbside pickup or delivery to avoid the amount of time you wear a mask.
Your cloth mask needs to be washed daily in hot soapy water. Hang or lay flat to dry for best longevity of your mask. Heat drying above 167deg F does make the virus inviable however it may shrink or degrade your mask elastic. Once dry, use clean hands to place mask in a paper bag by the door, ready to grab when you leave the house.
For video tips and links on comfort fit, exercises, and self care for mask wearing, please see http://www.fitforlifeNCPT.com/masklove
Move Better, Live Better
“Mags” Matthews, PT, MPT, CAPP-OB co-owner with Corey Vanderwouw, PT and Ingo Zirpins, PT of Fit For Life Physical Therapy, a full service rehabilitation and wellness clinic specializing in orthopedics, geriatrics, neurological and pelvic health.
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