Last blog we talked about stress relieving breathing techniques. We talked about reaching deep within ourselves to find that inner SEAL to survive the current climate. Now, let us talk about the current climate and another aspect of breathing. So, when you do your breathing exercises, even if it is that one breath to compose your thoughts, please do it in the privacy of your own space. As we have all been apprised about COVID-19 over the last few months, we should be mindful of particulate air virus spread. That is why we wear masks. NPR has a wonderful review by Pien Huang published on July 6th reviewing the various modalities of droplet transmissions (aerosols, droplets, fomites: what we know about the transmission of COVID-19). Masks, indeed, not only protect ourselves but our fellow man to prevent dissemination of this disease. However, as time as progressed with our mask wearing accessory, there are a few things about mask hygiene I would like to share. This is coming from someone who has spent the majority of my life wearing a mask since I am a surgeon. Nevertheless, as a surgeon, wearing a mask in the operating room is quite different from the daily office and public wear settings. First of all, in the OR, there isn’t a need to talk outside of work-related words. Then, after the procedure, the mask is ripped off, discarded, and hands washed. In current mask wearing protocols, that mask stays on where conversing occurs, sneezing projects and breathing is a must. All of this is recycled self-air that we are breathing in. Here are some of my observations and suggestions:
- As we talk and breathe, CO2 is expelled from us and builds up in the mask. Please don’t hyperventilate. In the absence of a second party, take breaks, remove the mask and breathe in some fresh air in your own space (6 feet from the nearest human subject).
- If you are one wrought with sinus issues, now might be a time to regularly engage in some sort of sinus irrigation whether neti pot or any saline modality that works for you. I am one such type and still insist on swimming though it has been a while since I cannot go to a gym or beach as I continue my own isolation of work, home, work, home, work, home…….okay, I’ll quit venting. Since wearing the mask, swimming or no swimming, the saline irrigation helps clear out the nasal passageway and moisturizes the nasal mucosa (lining inside the nose).
- Speaking of dryness, remember what I said about talking. Okay, so now I do talk with the mask and my recycled air. By the end of office, my throat is dry, and I have a dry cough. I advise drinking lots of water (it’s always a good thing, anyway). Also, lozengers help keep the breath fresh and the throat clear.
- Your dentist always told you to brush after eating, remember? Now, with a mask, I find it crucial to brush after eating since I am wearing a mask all of the time. Not only do things smell better, especially if you like garlic as much as I do, but it cleans the bacterial off of your teeth that live in your mouth that you will be breathing. Perhaps, even follow with a mouth wash or salt water gargle.
- Now, we get to skin issues. When I was a resident in general surgery and plastic surgery, I was much younger and operated non-stop. What happened? Bad skin with plenty of pimples around my lower face. I was vigilant about cleaning my face and even wiping my face with astringent after cases. I advise, periodically, airing out the face and rinsing with astringent or even simple….here we go again, salt water to cleanse the area. As my patients know, I’m a big proponent of rose water and really like that as a facial rinse. Not only is it gentle, but it also smells clean and fresh.
There are now so many masks on the market and many mask-wearing theories. I hope this helps alleviate some discomforts with mask wearing as we fight this pandemic. We will get through this. But, in the interim, let’s be prudent to take care of ourselves and, most importantly, take care of each other. Peace be with you.
Remember to often clean and change your mask!
Please visit CDC website for mask wearing guidance updates