Problems with masks – and how to solve them

Here we explore some of the issues with masks and offer solutions, where needed.

The first thing to cover is that wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic is for public health; it may not directly benefit you, but indirectly it will.

Wearing a mask may not stop you from potentially catching Covid-19, but it does mean, if you catch it, you are far less likely to spread it and when we are all far less likely to spread it, we are all far less likely to catch it. By taking care for each other we take care of ourselves.

One of the main transmission mechanisms for all viruses is hand to face contact. You touch something, such as a door handle, that has traces of the virus then touch your mouth or nose. Hand washing is clearly important but also wearing a mask can discourage us from touching our mouth and nose.

Health impact

Some people think that wearing a face mask can have a negative health impact. Very occasionally this can be true but this is only for people who have significantly impaired health. For the vast majority of people there is no health impact, although they can be unpleasant to wear.
We know this because many people have to wear a mask as part of their working life; surgeons and other medics who wear masks to protect patients would have noticed if there were detrimental effects.

If you think you might be in the group which should avoid wearing health masks take professional medical advice. If you are not willing to take medical advice you are almost certainly not in the group.

The smell!

You may be taken aback by the smell of the mask – especially if you ate garlic recently!
You realistically have two choices, one is to get use to the smell of your breath and the other is to brush and gargle – and go light on the garlic.

Spectacles steaming up

The most drastic solution is to have laser eye surgery so you no longer need to have your vision externally corrected, that will take time and money, but quicker and less drastic is trying contact lenses instead of glasses.

If you have ruled out not wearing glasses, consider how to wear a mask and glasses in the best way to avoid your breath condensing on them. If you are going to be wearing the mask all day, sticking micropore (medical tape) across the top of the mask and your nose is a good way of blocking the breath from getting to the lenses. Another is to move the mask up your face as much as is possible to keep the breath from going straight up onto the lens.

The next trick is to make sure your glasses have a ‘surfactant’ coating. This is available from some spectacle wipes or try using normal detergent/soap. Cleaning your glasses will help stop them fogging up.

Specsavers offer a list of ideas which you can see by clicking here.

Communicating with other people

Some studies say that in a face to face communication less than 10% is actually about what is spoken with around 35% relates to the tone and over50% to the way we hold and move ourselves,

Wearing a mask seems to slightly muffle the voice and also (literally) masks what we are doing with our mouths. This not only makes understanding more difficult, but it also makes understanding the spirit in which something is said more difficult. It may be that you thought you were saying something with a nuanced grin showing you were being tongue-in-cheek but unless you have Jack Nicholson’esque eyebrows the chances are no-one will pick up on it.
In summary, when wearing a mask be aware that you may have to state things more clearly

Hearing

In the theatre you would get complaints of the actors not speaking clearly when you have dark scenes. So much of what is ‘heard’ is a combination of the sounds augmented by visual cues and lipreading.

Try mouthing “Elephant poo” to someone, but don’t be surprised if they respond “I love you. Too” (unless they are a bus driver, in which case that would be really weird).

The thing about masks is that not only do they muffle the words but they take away our ability to lip read however technology can help.

What technology can help

If you have an android phone there is an excellent free app called ‘Live Transcribe’. As words are spoken they show on your screen. It is like having everything said subtitled.  You can see a short video of how an ambulance driver uses it by clicking on Using an app to make sure you are heard .

Like subtitles you don’t need to rely on them all the time but they can be used as a reference when you miss what has been said, or even want to check that what you thought was said, actually was. So a quick glance at your phone will show you that Coldplay weren’t singing about a “Pair of, pair of, pair of dice” but Para-para-paradise.”

What’s more, because you can load this on your phone you can take responsibility for making sure you can understand rather than getting frustrated with others for not being clear enough.

It is a bit trickier on iPhone. All the speech to text apps are paid for but there is a trick which will help you to replicate it. On you iPhone go to Settings>general>keyboard> ENABLE DICTATION. And make sure the switch is to the right to turn this on.  Then open ‘Notes’ or any other app that you would normally write in and do what you normally would to get the keyboard up. When you do click on the microphone (just to the left of the space bar) and what is spoken will be written on your screen.

Keeping safe at home

The symptoms of Covid-19 can come on very quickly and could make it difficult to phone for help.

For this reason, along with many other causes that could make it difficult or impossible to get to a phone, we recommend that anyone who spends a significant amount of time alone should consider how they would get help if they were unable to use their phone.
An obvious way to do this is by using a personal alarm and naturally, we recommend the Assure but recognised that it might not suit everyone’s needs. If you’d like to consider the options you can download our free guide to choosing the right protection.

Stay safe.

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Your doctor can help with medical problems, or if you are in an emotional crisis you could contact the Samaritans. You can call them free from any phone on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or you may have a branch near you that you can visit (see www.samaritans.org/branches).

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