Could face masks prevent more than just COVID-19?

 People who suffer from allergy symptoms may find some relief by wearing a mask, Israeli research has shown.

Allergy season in Israel is underway. It usually begins at the end of February and lasts until May, according to the Health Ministry, which reported that allergies affect 30% of the Israeli population.

A study by Galilee Medical Center and Bar-Ilan University published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that 40% of 215 nurses who wore either surgical masks or N95 masks experienced less sneezing and suffered less from having runny or stuffy noses.

As the rate of coronavirus infection declines in Israel and the Health Ministry is considering allowing people to go mask-free in outdoor settings after Independence Day, Dr. Amiel Dror, who led the study, suggested that perhaps “people with allergies may still maintain casual use of face masks outside or around dust and mold, and other common potent allergens.

“During COVID-19, face masks gained normalcy in many countries,” he said. “Masks not only reduced COVID transmission, but we also saw fewer cases of common cold and influenza. While allergen particles are a hundred times bigger than viruses, it is reasonable that our face mask filters such allergens and keeps them outside the respiratory system.”

The Health Ministry said that allergy symptoms can also be managed via medications, such as antihistamines and nasal sprays with small amounts of steroids.

The study was carried out in April 2020 during the first wave of coronavirus in Israel. A survey was distributed electronically to nurses who worked in respiratory wards or departments dedicated to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. The nurses scored their own allergy symptoms online.

Some 1,824 nurses participated in the survey, 301 of whom said they suffered from allergies. Of the 301, some 215 used both types of masks and smaller numbers used only one type of mask – 47 used surgical only and 39 used N95 only. In all cases, there was improvement of some allergy symptoms.

The researchers noted that other behavioral modifications at the time of the study could have contributed to the reduction in allergy symptoms, such as recommendations by the Health Ministry that people stay home and avoid crowded areas, which would have reduced the nurses’ exposure to allergens.

They also said that a larger study would need to be conducted to further validate that face masks reduce allergy symptoms.

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