Face masks with elastic bands can carry allergens, causing dermatitis to worsen

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — For most people, wearing a face has become second nature to them in 2020. While these coverings are protecting you from spreading or contracting COVID-19, a new report reveals they may also be exposing you to particles which make your allergies worse. Researchers with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) find certain materials in face masks can carry allergens, causing skin conditions and other symptoms to flare up.

“We treated a 60-year-old Black man with adult-onset eczema, contact dermatitis and chronic nasal allergies in our clinic after he presented three times to our hospital emergency room because of an uncomfortable face rash,” says allergist and ACAAI member Yashu Dhamija in a media release. “Up until April 2020, his skin conditions had been under control, but with mask-wearing, his symptoms began occurring in areas that providers were not yet accustomed to.”

Skin issues shouldn’t keep you from wearing a face mask

The study says doctors who examined this patient prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug for the skin outbreaks but they didn’t work. On a follow-up visit with the hospital’s allergy clinic, doctors discovered the man’s skin issues flared up in April 2020. This was right after health officials declared COVID a global pandemic and face masks went into everyday use. Allergists quickly connected the patient’s face mask to areas of his face suffering from dermatitis.

“We realized that his rash appeared right where the elastic parts of a mask would rest,” allergist and study co-author Kristin Schmidlin explains. “We tapered down the prednisone and advised him to use a topical steroid and a topical immunosuppressant until the rash resolved. We also told him to use cotton-based, dye-free masks without elastic. At a follow up telephone visit one week later, the patient said his rash continued to improve.”

Researchers say face masks carry common allergens in their elastic bands, fabric, and other components which hold the covering together. They urge people who’ve had existing skin issues to consult with an allergist when choosing a face mask. A board-certified health care professional can perform patch testing to find out which materials might trigger an allergic reaction.

The study is being presented at the ACAAI’s Annual Scientific Meeting.

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