No downside to wearing a mask: Experts

Though wearing protective face masks is essential in public places amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a growing public apathy towards using this safety gear.

But experts say there is no downside to wearing a mask and they fear this apathy may weaken the government’s efforts to contain the possible second wave of the deadly virus during winter.

Even, many people argue that wearing masks for a long time is uncomfortable as they say it irritates the skin and makes breathing difficult, causes oxygen deficiency or Carbon dioxide intoxication and some other problems.

Health experts think there are very little disadvantages of wearing a mask, but it is an important and effective way to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus when many asymptomatic patients are unconsciously roaming everywhere.

In a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also on Monday urged people to follow health guidelines and use face-masks in public places and gatherings, aiming to prevent the fresh surge in cases of the virus in Bangladesh during the coming winter.

“We all should use masks… no one should go to public places, gatherings, mosques and other festivals, including upcoming Durga Puja, without wearing masks under any circumstances…the infection rate will decline automatically if everyone uses a mask,” she said.

How to effectively use masks

Talking to UNB, former World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Advisor Muzaherul Huq said the mask is necessary to prevent coronavirus infection, but no one needs to wear it all time.

“We should know when and how the mask should be used. Masks have very little disadvantages, but we can minimise those if we know how to use those effectively,” Muzaherul Huq said.

He said a corona-infected patient should wear a mask only when he/she is supposed to come in contact with others. “When the patient is in isolation and no one is supposed to come to close proximity, he or she does not need to wear a mask.”

At the same time, the health expert said, when health workers or family members visit a corona patient must wear masks.

“No one needs to use masks in their houses if there is no corona patient there. When people are going outside and there’s a possibility of meeting other people, they should wear masks. But they should put it off intermittently when they are not in contact with any people. When you’re alone outside home or office, you can put off the mask. Even when you’re at the office and no one is beside you then you can carry out work without a mask,” he suggested.

Dr Muzaher, however, said when people are in buses, trains or other vehicles they need to wear masks.

He said many people have a tendency to use masks for a long time as they don’t know the proper ways of using the safety gear. “They should change this habit. Especially people having respiratory and lung problems should put off masks after a regular interval going in a safer and isolated place.”

Why masks create difficult feelings

Muzaher mentioned that some people say masks cause a headache, irritates the skin, creates oxygen deficiency and some other problems, but there is no enough evidence in support of those.

“Many people also feel irritation and discomfort due to physiological reasons. They should wear masks that give them comfort. For example, some people like to wear an N-95 or equivalent mask, but it creates discomfort for others. So, they should use surgical or cloth-made ones.”

President of Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad Dr Iqbal Arsenal said masks can cause some irritation for the people who do exhaustive work and wear a thick mask for a long time.

But this problem, he said, can be solved by removing the mask, going to a safer place for a while when they feel discomfort.

“Usually, health workers wear masks and other safety gears like gloves, goggles and PPEs and stay for a long time at their workplaces. If they can get used to it, people shouldn’t have any problem only wearing a mask. Most of the problems people mention about wearing masks are psychological,” he said.

Iqba said common people should not use very thick and N-95 or equivalent masks since they are not at high risk as doctors and nurses. “General people should use surgical or cloth-made double or triple-layer masks.”

He suggested people make masks with clothes at home and use those. “This type of mask is very suitable for common people as they can wash those regularly. It also can check the waste of money.”

About the advantages of wearing masks, Iqbal said as there are many asymptomatic corona patients, masks can protect people from getting infected by such patients. “It also helps the infected people refrain from spreading the virus.”

Besides, he said, the masks prevent people from inhaling unchecked discharge of dust, dust particles and other polluted elements from the air which also help protect their respiratory tracts from various infections.

“Around 80 percent of people suffering from respiratory problems are caused by dust pollution. So, if people use masks regularly when they come out of home it can help prevent many diseases related to dust, air and environment pollution,” Iqbal said.

He said Japanese people usually use masks for a long time whenever they go outside their homes. “They don’t feel any problem using the mask as they have become accustomed to it. We should also make it our habit even if the corona is eliminated.”

Mask use has no side effect

Prof Dr Mohammed Atiqur Rahman, a medicine specialist and Treasurer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said there is no other alternative to using masks when anyone gets exposed to other people within close proximity to contain corona infection.

“Masks have no big disadvantage, but people may feel uneasy using it for a long time since they still didn’t become used to it,” he observed.

As winter is getting close, Dr Atiq said, it is imperative to ensure the cent percent use of masks by encouraging people to wear it as the situation may worsen.

“Especially, elderly people and those who have comorbidities, respiratory problems and the children shouldn’t go outside without masks. We should give a message through the media that masks use have no side effect to increase its use.”