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7 Side Effects of Wearing a Face Mask

Face masks work. Here’s how to make them work for you.

Face masks are effective, period, at protecting you and others from COVID-19. The CDC has said so. WHO has said so. The Department of  Health and Human Services has said so. They are even better than previously thought. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, recently, excitedly, called face masks a "two-way street." They protect you from spreading droplets but now, "recent data has now shown that as a matter of fact, there's also the added benefit to protect you from droplets and virus that's coming your way," Fauci said. So: How do you wear one comfortably, without any side effects, so you can do your part and save the world? Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


Your Glasses May Fog Up

Medical mask and Glasses fogging

With your mask on, and covering your mouth, your warm breath is looking for somewhere to go—and so it escapes upward, leaving condensation on your glasses lenses. For some, it can feel that both halves of your face is covered.

The Solution: First, make sure your mask isn't releasing too much air. "You want to make sure your mask fits securely over the nose. With glasses, a mask with a nose bridge will keep warm air from exiting up to your glasses as opposed to other face coverings," Aaron Hamilton, MD, tells the Cleveland Clinic. Or use the trusty soap and water trick. "Simply wash your lenses with soapy water and shake off the excess liquid," says the Clinic. "You can allow your lenses to air dry or gently wipe them off with a soft cloth before wearing your glasses again. Why does this method work? The soap leaves behind a thin film that acts as a fog barrier."


You May Have Difficulty Understanding Someone When They Talk Through the Mask

woman with surgical medical mask is sitting and working on laptop and trying to hear with attention to laptop

During a Three Men and a Baby virtual reunion this weekend, Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg laughed about rehearsing while wearing face masks and face shields—they couldn't hear what people were saying. It's clear how much we were depending on "lip reading" as their hearing's gotten worse in old age, joked Danson. No shame here. "About 70 percent of people over 70 have some hearing loss, whether or not they own it," Jan Blustein, M.D., a professor of health policy and medicine at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, tells AARP. Face masks don't help make voices any louder.

The Solution: Simply ask the person you're talking to to speak louder, or to use a white board, and blame it on the mask. Or consider a clear mask for those around you, or, per AARP, "for those with mild hearing loss, it helps to try to eliminate background sounds from, say, a dishwasher or a fan, which can mask the sound signal from someone's voice, Blustein says. Similarly, it's important to turn down the volume on a TV or radio or to close a door in order to shut out noise from an adjacent room."


You May Experience Anxiety

woman with face mask holding her head in pain and looking away at home

It's natural to feel anxious during a pandemic. A face mask can exacerbate this in a few ways—every time you put one one, it's a reminder life is not normal; a face mask can feel constricting; they can make half the face of the world disappear. It's OK to feel worry each time you grab one.

The Solution: UW Health, the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has some really good tips for managing anxiety around face masks. Here are just a few:

  • "Call it out: Identify that you are experiencing anxiety and it is a normal response. Practice saying calming statements such as 'this will pass' or 'I am safe and I will get through this;' find what works for you.
  • Regulate your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths in your nose and out your mouth.
  • Focus on the present. Anxious thoughts might cause you to worry and think about the 'what ifs' of wearing a mask or being in public in one.
  • Get comfortable with your mask. Practice wearing it at home for short periods of time and taking breaks if you feel anxious. Try building up to longer periods of time.
  • Find a mask that is the right style and fit for you."


You May Have Difficulty Breathing

sick with a new coronavirus coughs in a disposable facial mask

Masks, when worn properly, do not inhibit oxygen flow. Doctors have proven it. So if you're having difficulty catching air while wearing one, it's possible your mask doesn't fit right—it's too tight, perhaps—or it's in your mind. "Most of us aren't used to wearing face masks, and the sensation of having a mask on your face might make someone anxious or uncomfortable," Christopher Ewing, a lung specialist based in Alberta, Canada tells Discover Magazine. "Although much of our breathing is unconscious and driven by our respiratory center, it can also be influenced by the mind. When we're feeling discomfort, even subconsciously, it can change the way we breathe."

The Solution: Try the Box Method. "The best strategy to reset our natural breathing pattern is something that is common in yoga and also something that the U.S. Navy Seals use," Ewing tells Discover, which adds people can "visualize a box and trace the outline of the four sides in their mind's eye as they inhale and exhale slowly. Following the outline of the box, users breathe in slowly for four seconds, pause, breathe out completely, and then pause again." "This method helps us regulate our breathing in a more conscious way, and it also reduces stress and anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system," says Ewing.

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear in This Order, Study Finds


You May Find it Difficult to Exercise

woman doing lunges at the gym wearing n95 face mask

You might have gotten out of breath exercising even before the pandemic. Now, running in a face mask? "It's safe to wear a mask while exercising, but considerations should be made," reports the Mayo Clinic. "For example, it's recommended that you perform low- to moderate-intensity exercise rather than vigorous exercise while wearing a mask. This is because of the decreased airflow allowed through the mask which can affect breathing and your ability to properly regulate body temperature."

The Solution: The Mayo Clinic provides examples of moderate-intensity exercise:

  • "Walking briskly at 2.5 MPH or faster
  • Recreational swimming
  • Bicycling slower than 10 MPH on level terrain
  • Recreational tennis, particularly doubles
  • Active forms of yoga, such as vinyasa or power yoga
  • Exercise classes, such as water aerobics"


You May Get Acne

Woman looking at acne mirror

Acne caused by a face mask—or "maskne"—" is commonly caused by heat and friction—like your face and a mask rubbing together," reports Gunderson Health System. "When there is an external irritant that causes rubbing, in acne prone people skin cells tip in under the skin and this causes acne," says Gundersen dermatologist Abigail Taub, MD.

The Solution: Gunderson offers some tips:

  • "Cleanse your face with a product containing benzoyl peroxide. This tip is especially useful for anyone who has oily skin, but beware: You don't want to overdo it and strip all the natural oils from your face. 'It is normal for there to be oil on the skin, and if too much oil is stripped the skin's defense is to make more oil, which can lead to a vicious cycle,'" Dr. Taub says.
  • Wash cloth masks frequently. Use a fragrance-free laundry detergent and consider rinsing your masks an extra time to ensure anything that could irritate your skin is removed. Do not use dryer sheets."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says Most People Did This Before Catching COVID


You May Find Your Skin Irritated or Ears Hurting

Woman taking off mask with ear gesture annoyed by mask in coronavirus pandemic

"Wearing a mask for multiple hours at a time or several days in a row can lead to irritation on the backs of your ears (for those wearing ear-loop masks) or cause sensitive facial skin in general," said Ohio Health.  

The Solution: "Fear not!," says Ohio Health. "Numerous options exist to relieve pain. Check out these ideas. Also, consider what your mask is made from. Natural materials like cotton are less likely to cause irritation than synthetic fibers. Still, it's important to select a tightly-woven material to prevent the spread of viruses if you are making or purchasing homemade masks." And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek