The experts are unanimous: wearing a mask is one of the most basic ways you can help fight the virus that’s claimed the lives of more than two million people around the world.
Yet so many are still not wearing a mask, or wearing it in a way that doesn’t offer the right kind of protection.
Yes, masks can be irritating, especially on hot days.
That’s why so many of us have become increasingly creative in the ways we choose to wear them. But doing so increases our risk of getting sick.
Make sure you’re not falling into any of these mask traps and see what you can do to make it more comfortable.
1. The nose tickler
This is one of the most common. Exposing your nose may make it easier to breathe – but it also means viruses can get up your nostrils. You might as well not be wearing a mask.
2. The dangler
Masks get stuffy, spectacles get foggy and sometimes you just want to breathe in fresh air, so many people tend to dangle their mask from one ear as they walk from store to store. But your mask could fall to the floor and pick up germs. And if your hands are dirty and you’re taking off and putting it back on with your dirty hands, you could be transferring germs.
3. The straw door
A favourite of foodies. Many diners want to err on the side of caution when they’re eating, so they make an incision in their mask, either as a hole through which to sip a straw or by making a bigger gash in the mask to be able to take mouthfuls of food.
This makes the mask less efficient.“If you’ve cut a big hole in it, it’s not doing any good because you’re just breathing the droplets out,” Professor Catherine Noakes, airborne disease transmission expert at the University of Leeds in the UK, told The Guardian.
A hole for a straw isn’t as bad. “If you had a tiny slit, just enough to pass a straw through, that’s likely to be quite a lot better than not having a mask on at all,” she says.
4. The mouth flasher
Some people cover only their noses to allow for lip-reading. This exposes other people who can catch airborne droplets from you. It also doesn’t protect you if you breathe in through your mouth.
5. The hammock
This is another popular trend many are guilty of: wearing the mask below the chin. It’s as good as not wearing a mask. It increases the risk of germs spreading over your face and neck as you adjust the mask up and down over your chin.
6. The visor
A visor keeps big droplets from your eyes and mouth but on its own it won’t protect against smaller airborne droplets. Combine it with a mask – that way a visor provides extra protection around the eye area while the mask covers your mouth and nose.
HELP! COMPLAINTS AND QUESTIONS
Wearing a mask hurts my ears
Choose a cotton mask with cotton ear ties that fasten at the back of your head rather than one with an elastic ear loop. Or attach your ear loops to buttons sewn onto the side of a headband or hat.
You could try an ear-saver clip that’s positioned at the back of the head and is used to hold elastic ear loops. Takealot.com sells silicone ear-savers (R79 for 5).
How often should I wash my cloth mask?
Masks need to be hand-washed, advises Nkosinathi Lowan, founder of Health Zone Pharmacy and Clinic. Ideally, you should change a cloth mask after three hours of use. If you have a washing machine, you can use that, but in general you just need water and soap.
Wash it for a few minutes, hang it to dry, then destroy any lingering germs with a hot iron.
Can I reuse a disposable mask?
Yes. When you remove your mask, touch only the ear straps, avoiding the surface of the mask as much as possible. That’s where virus particles may have gathered, advises Dr Lucian Davis, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health in the USA.
Once the mask is safely removed, put it in a clean receptacle.Jade Flinn, nurse educator at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Mary-land, says she puts her mask in a paper bag – this allows good ventilation – for the mask to air out for a few days. If a mask is soiled or torn, discard it.
My glasses fog up when I wear a mask
Look for a mask with a metal wire sewn in that goes over the bridge of your nose. Then you can pinch the top of your mask so that it fits the shape of your nose, says Sidney Gicheru, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Dallas in the US. Tighten the sides of your mask by adjusting the straps so it fits snugly.
Another option is to put a plaster on the bridge of your nose to close the gap between your nose and your mask. Many optometrists now offer sprays that can prevent fogging for a few hours.
My mask keeps slipping down
It’s important not to touch your mask because of the risk of contamination. Make sure your mask fits you correctly before you leave home.
When you put your mask on, you should notice it moving in and out as you breathe, says William Schaffner, a professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee in the US. If it doesn’t, you need to tighten it. Adjust the ear loops and tie a knot so the mask fits snugly against your face and there are no gaps at the sides or top.
Or put a plaster on the bridge of your nose to close the gap between your mask and nose. Refrain from fidgeting with the mask once you’ve put it on, advises Nkosinathi Lowan. Carry sanitiser so if you do touch the mask to fix its positioning, you can sanitise your hands afterwards.
Masks are too small for my head
Try tying a shoelace or piece of string to each ear loop. After putting on your mask, tie the extended strings together at the back of your head.