The prospect of having to spend eight hours or more at the workplace with a face mask on has caused concern for many in the ‘new normal’. Apart from discomfort while interacting with colleagues and workmates, many also dread the idea of constantly breathing in the carbondioxide exhaled by oneself under the mask, or facing dizziness and other disorders due to hindered breathing.
Some doctors in Oman dub these fears as ‘true but unavoidable’ and point out that breathing under a mask can cause many problems from breathing difficulties, especially for those suffering from respiratory disorders, to inhaling additional load of the virus (by COVID-19 positive patients) thereby causing pneumonia. They have, however, urged people to weigh the pros and cons in individual cases before deciding whether to wear or not to wear a face mask at work, since it is recommended by the World Health Organization as a precaution against contracting or passing on the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Dr K P Raman, Senior cardiologist and proprieor of Al Hayat Hospital, said, “Of all the preventive measures wearing mask in public is the most effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it should be worn properly and it should be removed and disposed off properly. A mask that is too tight may cause breathing difficulty, headache, pressure injury, while a loosely worn mask might defeat the very purpose of wearing mask.”
He also pointed out tha wearing a mask often gives a false sense of security to people whotend not to follow the other measures, such as physical distancing and hand washing. Also, after wearing a mask, one becomes less audible to other people and, so, people have a tendency to come closer to each other in order to be heard.
Dr Raman cautions that masks should be changed whenever they get soiled by secretions (coughing and sneezing), when it becomes wet by one’s own saliva, when it becomes very loose and after 8 hours of use. Some people also develop an allergy to the material used in the mask while some develop anxiety, dizziness, confusion and headache.
He also cautioned smokers whose lungs are dysfunctional due to COPD and already suffer from breathlessness, indicating that wearing a mask may accentuate the symptoms for such persons.
“While wearing a mask, a person breathes his/her own exhaled air which is rich in carbondioxide and this is harmful for COPD patients who already have a tendency for high carbondioxide levels in the blood,” Dr Raman pointed out.
There are also other beliefs that wearing a mask for a long time and for many days can lessen the natural immunity of the wearer. Dr Raman clarified, that if a wet mask is not replaced, and if the wearer happens to be a corona positive case, the virus stays viable in the moist mask for a long time. By constant inhalation, the viral load entering the lungs may become very high for such person and higher viral load entering the lungs means higher risk of serious pneumonia.
“There are other problems caused by wearing a mask, like if it is not adequately tight at the upper border, exhaled air escapes into the eye, causing mild irritation, fogging of the glasses and makes the person touch his face and eyes more frequently. This increases the risk of virus entry into the system. However the benefits overweigh the side effects and, so, it is recommended by the World Health Organizaion,” he said.
Dr Dipali Bhuyan, from the Department of Paediatric Haemato-Oncology, Royal Hospital, stressed the need to take all precautions and learn to live with this virus. The most important precautions include maintaing proper hygiene, especially hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing face masks.
“Wearing face mask for longer periods of time has some concerns, like suffocation, discomfort, etc. It is important for everyone to be aware of these shortcomings while wearing masks, “ she said, suggesting intermittant removal of the masks to relieve discomfort, but making sure it is done in an area where there is less crowd and a clean atmosphere.
“I feel using a face shield is an alternative. Face shields are more comfortable and gives protection to the entire face without causing suffocation,” she said, adding, “Special awareness is required for children and elderly people while wearing face masks. I strongly feel we should weigh the benefits versus complications in every situation. So, if someone is not comfortable with face masks, they should intermittently remove them or use face shields.
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