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Have Spring Allergies? Your Face Mask Can Help

A young white woman with long hair laying on the grass surrounded by small white flowers. She is wearing a disposable blue face mask and a green tee shirt.

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Key Takeaways

  • A study shows that many allergy sufferers noticed a significant decrease in their symptoms when wearing masks at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • However, the research did not consider how much time people spent outdoors or away from other people because of following social distancing and quarantine guidelines.
  • Allergists say that face masks could be a beneficial tool for some people who have seasonal allergies.

A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in November, 2021, has found that for some people, the symptoms of seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis can be lessened by wearing a face mask.

The study was conducted in Israel in April 2020, coinciding with both the start of the pandemic and the onset of spring allergies. The authors surveyed 1,824 nurses throughout the Israeli medical system, 301 of whom reported that they typically experienced allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies). The nurses worked in respiratory wards or in areas with direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

Most of the nurses surveyed reported that they wore two masks—an N95 and a surgical mask. A smaller number reported that they wore only one mask (either a surgical mask or an N95 mask).

More Face Masks Mean More Allergy Relief

Among the 301 nurses who said that they usually had seasonal allergies, most said that wearing a face mask reduced their symptoms. However, how much relief they experienced depended on how many and the type of masks they wore.

  • The nurses who wore two masks reported decreased symptoms whether their symptoms were typically mild or severe.
  • The nurses who just wore an N95 mask reported a decrease in their severe symptoms, but still experienced mild symptoms.
  • The nurses who wore surgical masks reported a decrease in mild symptoms, but still had severe symptoms.
  • Nurses in all three groups reported that the symptom of eye irritation stayed more or less the same before and after wearing a mask.

The study author Amiel Dror, MD, PhD, of Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine, noted that since the survey was conducted at the beginning of the pandemic, the research team can't account for variables such as quarantining, when people would have been inside and therefore not exposed to outdoor allergens.

How Masks Offer Protection

Environmental allergens are typically larger particles than bacteria and viruses. If you're looking for a mask for everyday use, there's no need to seek out N95 masks or similar.

Michel Corbat, engineer and vice president of product development of Rensa Filtration, explains to Verywell that particle size has a big impact on how sensitive your mask should be.

"Allergens exist in the world across a multitude of sizes. For example, pollen is typically larger in particle size, so a less efficient mask would work for these," Corbat says. "Conversely, environmental tobacco smoke is considered a particle but very small. The same high-efficiency masks used for COVID-19 would be required if the person has allergies to smoke. The recommendation would be to look at what a person is allergic to and determine a particle size associated with that allergen through a quick web search. Particulate larger than 2.5 micrometers is a good breakpoint to determine who needs a finer mask."

Frank Cea, market developer for Rensa Health (the makers of the ClearCare masks) tells Verywell that the materials that comprise your mask make a difference.

"Our masks have a middle layer that is made from melt-blown nonwoven polypropylene, which has a natural electrostatic charge," Cea says. "So finer particles that may slip through holes in the [material] will end up getting trapped anyhow because of the electrostatic attraction."

Cea says any mask that protects against tiny SARS-CoV-2 particles should protect against allergen particles too.

Amina Abdeldaim, MD, an allergist and the medical director for Picnic (which offers personalized allergy treatment plans sent directly to patients' homes) tells Verywell that cloth masks are also effective, especially outside where environmental particles tend to be larger. However, cloth masks still need to be washed regularly.

Face Masks May Help With Indoor Allergens, Too

Abdeldaim says that if you have seasonal allergies, think of face masks as another weapon in your arsenal against symptoms.

"Although masks aren't going to be the thing that resolves all your allergy issues, it's a good tool to have in your toolbox," Abdeldaim says. "On your highest pollen days, a mask could really help alleviate symptoms."

Proper air filtration should filter environmental allergens to an acceptable level when you're inside, but Abdeldaim says that masks can still be helpful for some indoor activities. "The way that masks filter, they technically filter out all of the allergens in the environment because of the size of the particles," Abdeldaim says. "If you have a dust allergy and you have to dust, I would wear a mask."

In addition to filtering out environmental allergens such as pollen, dust, and mold, masks also warm the air before it is inhaled. The humidity that's created can also relieve symptoms. Abedeldaim says that's why wearing a scarf or mask over the nose and mouth has historically been the standard prescription for people with allergies.

What This Means For You

Face masks are useful tools for maintaining optimal lung health even beyond the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have seasonal allergies, get into the habit of checking your local allergy report. You might be able to reduce your symptoms by wearing a face mask when you go outside when allergen levels are high.

You might not need to wear a face mask inside to avoid allergens. If your indoor environment is properly ventilated, face masks should be optional unless you're completing a task that you know will produce more particles, such as dusting or woodworking.

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  1. Dror AA, Eisenbach N, Marshak T, et al. Reduction of allergic rhinitis symptoms with face mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemicJ Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020;8(10):3590-3593. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2020.08.035