Wearing a mask can help stop the spread of coronavirus, but many people are now wondering if the mask itself can get you sick since many people complain about sore throats. A dirty mask can harbor germs, but it won’t give you Strep throat as many have been wondering, says Christina Gagliardo, MD, attending physician in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Atlantic Health System’s Goryeb Children’s Hospital.
“The mask itself and wearing a mask will not give you Strep throat (throat infection caused by Group A Streptococcus),” says Gagliardo. “The mask can certainly get contaminated with any number of germs including bacteria and viruses, thus washing or sanitizing your hands before and after touching the mask, washing and storing it properly, and not setting it down on surfaces while out are all very important to decrease chances the mask will get contaminated with any germ that could then make you sick.”
If you’ve noticed your or your child’s throat is sore after wearing a mask, it could be due to the fact that we need to talk louder to be heard with our mouths covered up.
“Some people might need to speak louder when wearing a mask and this might lead to a sore throat,” says Gagliardo. “If your mask gets contaminated with a germ, that can theoretically cause an infection and lead to a sore throat.” In the end, the benefits of wearing a mask outweigh the risks. “It all goes back to hand washing, keeping your mask clean and storing it properly to try to avoid this.”
There are other myths about wearing masks circulating on the internet – one is that since we’re breathing directly into masks that stay on our mouths, CO2 can build up.
“Wearing a cloth or surgical mask will not cause carbon dioxide to build up as it will diffuse through and around the mask as you breathe,” says Gagliardo. “It does not accumulate in the mask and cannot make you sick.” Gagliardo also stresses that mask wearing will not cause low oxygen levels. “Health care providers and other types of workers have been wearing masks for years with no adverse health risks.”
Finally, it’s important to remember that just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t mean you should forgo social distancing.
“Masks are just one tool to help protect from spreading COVID, but physical distancing of six feet is still important since some respiratory droplets can be dispersed despite the mask, although to a lesser degree than without the mask,” says Gagliardo. “And of course, hand washing is important as well!”
Dr. Gagliardo’s Tips for cloth mask washing:
- Masks should be washed at least daily after use. Or as soon as it is soiled or contaminated.
- You can wash your mask with your regular laundry with laundry detergent, on the warmest water setting appropriate for the cloth used to make the mask.
- You can wash masks by hand as well and the CDC website has instructions for washing masks with bleach.
- Always make sure the mask is completely dry before wearing it. You can dry it on the highest heat setting and leave it in the dryer until totally dry or lay it flat and allow it to completely dry. If you choose to hang it to dry, the ear loops might stretch and the mask might not fit properly, so check to make sure it fits properly if you dry it this way.
Dr. Gagliardo’s Tips for Storing Masks:
- Make sure your hands are cleaned with soap and water or hand sanitizer before handling the mask.
- Store it in a clean container or bag or separate drawer.
- Hanging it on hooks works too, but don’t use the mask if it does not fit properly (i.e., if the ear loops get stretched out).
- If storing everyone’s masks in the same place, be mindful about rifling through with unwashed hands.
- When on the go, ideally you shouldn’t put your mask directly into your bag or pockets. Place it into a clean paper bag or envelope. Another option is to wear a mask chain like this one.
- Always be sure to wash or sanitize your hands before and after touching your or your child’s mask.