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Is it the mask?

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This story originally appeared in The Conversation

Is it the mask?
Is it the mask?

By Carles Subirà Pifarré, University of Barcelona

After nearly nine months since the coronavirus pandemic began, we know that it is spreading through close contact between people. The diffusion of droplets of saliva, larger or smaller, by spraying is the main vehicle of virus transmission.

With the exception of a small part of the population we call “deniers”, no one doubts the importance of protecting your mouth and nose, maintaining a social distance between 1.5 and 2 meters, and washing your hands frequently.

In fact, the image of avenues full of dozens of masked people no longer attracts our attention as it did before. Now the masks allow us to maintain some social contact with the certainty that they are hindering the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

However, this has not always been the case. At the beginning of the pandemic, the lack of provision of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) caused the virus to spread at high speed.

We saw our medical colleagues get excessively ill and tried to take care of the patients who arrived at the health centers drowned along with other symptoms.

Anesthetists, dentists, head and neck surgeons, maxillofacial surgeons, ophthalmologists and ENT specialists were the most affected groups as they had to work close to their patients’ nose and mouth. So much so that initially between 3.8 and 20% of infected cases were health workers.

Incorrect use of the mask

Today we know that the mask reduces the spread of the virus, especially in places where it is difficult to keep a safe distance. There is no doubt that infected patients transmit viruses to people who may be close to them.

The problem lies in the diffusion caused by asymptomatic patients. No diagnosis of certainty. This is where the mask is particularly relevant.

On the other hand, problems have been described in connection with the use of the mask, since a false sense of security or incorrect wearing leads to it losing its protective capacity.

The same thing happens when it is mistakenly tampered with and touches it on the outside instead of doing it for the strips that hold it in the earpiece.

On the other hand, the lack of non-verbal communication can lead to insecurity in people with mental health problems or hearing problems. If the mask is excessively wet, it also loses some of its insulating properties, both for the user and for the external environment.

If they are not properly changed or cleaned in the case of tissue masks, they can ultimately also become an accumulator of pathogenic microorganisms.

A blow to mental health

In addition to all of the problems associated with incorrect use of the mask, there is also the pain it can cause us.

Covid-19 is not the first epidemic humanity has faced. This type of public health emergency has been described in the past as having a major impact on the mental health of the population.

Indeed, the literature is replete with examples describing the response of some individuals to epidemic or pandemic outbreaks. Individual psychological responses may depend on an individual’s susceptibility to factors such as intolerance to insecurity, feelings of being more susceptible to illness, and anxiety.

The factors are very different. Lack of trust in health systems, increased hygiene and avoidance behavior (we don’t shake hands, we don’t hug, we don’t kiss, etc.), lack of information or misinformation, transmit fear and you create a tense and depressing environment, that interferes with many activities of daily living. Also in the ability to fall asleep.

There is also great uncertainty about the origin of SARS-CoV-2, its nature, the ability of any government to prevent the infection from spreading, and the severity of the risk involved.

What is the jaw pain?

The occurrence of changes in the temporomandibular joint is strongly related to mental disorders, especially in people who suffer from changes in the masticatory muscles.

Daily use of the mask could exacerbate these types of TMJ disorders. Frequent movements, such as sliding your jaw forward to support the mask, separating it from your mouth, and increasing the space for air intake, including unconscious and repeated clenching of your lips and teeth in response to fear, can tire and overload your facial muscles.

This pain can be felt in the ears, temples, forehead, and other areas of the face. The transmission of pain from the ears to the temples can be caused by the auriculotemporal nerve (which is a branch of the trigeminal nerve) that extends just in front of and above the ear to the scalp.

Compression in this area from tight ear straps or goggle arms can cause facial pain and headaches.

To this end, by using hearing protection or strap extensions, we can eliminate the loops of the ears and eliminate the tensile forces or compressions that the rubber of the masks can cause.

Finally, the masks can encourage mouth breathing instead of nose breathing when they experience a certain risk of suffocation. When breathing through the mouth, the jaw is held slightly open, which can cause tension to develop in the muscles around it.

At rest we should mainly breathe through our noses. Nasal breathing adds moisture and warms the air we breathe, keeping the jaw in a resting position.

Correct use of protective masks protects us from contracting Covid-19 and should not cause pain in the jaw.

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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