Such masks can help reduce the spread of aerosol-based viruses by blocking their entry into your respiratory system via your nose and mouth, so it stands to reason, then, that they could also keep pesky pollen particles out.
Doctors from the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US say masks can help prevent severe spring allergy issues.
Dr Do-Yeon Cho, associate professor of otolaryngology, said many patients with hay fever are doing well this year because they’ve stayed indoors more – and when they do go outside, they wear face masks.
He pointed to a 2020 study showing allergic rhinitis symptoms among nurses had been reduced with face mask usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The nurses either wore surgical masks or N95 masks, as they were working in a hospital setting at the time. It’s worth bearing in mind while face covers (made from material) are better for the environment, experts agree they’re slightly less protective.
Any face covering can “significantly” reduce the number of pollens and allergens that may enter your nose and mouth, said Dr Cho. But there are some things to be aware of.
It’s important not to touch the front of the mask when removing it and not to flip the mask when reusing it – if you do that, you’ll end up with loads of pollen on your face, potentially making allergies, not to mention your risk of catching Covid-19, worse.
Airborne allergens expert Max Wiseberg, creator of HayMax allergen barrier balm, caveats that masks won’t always keep pollen out.
“If you put a mask on your face, then it will obviously shut out some of the pollen. But most face masks don’t seal very well, so pollen will still get in,” he says. Remember: wearing a mask under your nose or with big gaps at either side by your cheeks will let pollen – and any lingering viruses – in (and out).
“It is important to continue with other methods of dealing with your hay fever,” adds Wiseberg.
Avoiding outdoor activities when pollen counts are high, taking allergy medication, and showering after you’ve been outside can all help to reduce allergy symptoms in the months ahead.
“Change clothes and wash your nose with saline when you come inside the house,” Dr Cho said. “Wash your bedding and clothes in hot, soapy water, and dry your clothes in a clothes dryer, not on an outdoor line.”
He also noted that using high-efficiency particulate absorbance, or HEPA, air filters during allergy season “can reduce exposure to allergens”.