Preventing Skin Damage Due to Face Masks

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Face masks need to fit snuggly to the wearer’s face, and they must close tightly around the nose to ensure that they offer maximum protection.

However, in a fast paced, stressful, and sometimes hot environment, this can lead to discomfort and skin damage.

“The wearers are sweating underneath the masks, and this causes friction, leading to pressure damage on the nose and cheeks. There can be tears to the skin as a result, and these can lead to potential infection.”

The article covers a range of medical devices, including endotracheal and nasogastric tubes, oxygen tubing, urinary catheters, cervical collars, and casts. However, it is the increased use of face masks that has brought the study into the limelight.

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Device-related pressure ulcers

The paper focuses on pressure ulcers that develop due to medical devices, in particular. Pressure ulcers are injuries that result from pressure breaking down the skin and underlying tissue.

These ulcers can increase the risk of infections, such as sepsis, which might be life threatening. They also cause pain, leave scars, result in permanent hair loss, and increase the duration of hospital stays.

Prof. Ousey advises people who wear masks for long periods to keep their skin well-hydrated and moisturized. People should apply a barrier cream, she advises, at least 30 minutes before putting on the mask. It is also important to keep the skin under the mask clean.

“[W]e are suggesting that pressure from the mask is relieved every 2 hours. So you come away from the patient, relieve the pressure in a safe place, and clean the skin again.” – Prof. Karen Ousey

Certain members of the public — for instance, people working in stores — might also wear these masks to reduce infection risk. Prof. Ousey suggests that if they feel their masks rubbing, they should “take them off as soon as they safely can.”

New COVID-19 guidance

For this reason, the CDC recommend that people who must leave the house wear a fabric face covering to protect others.

However, the CDC ask that people do not buy medical grade face masks, such as the N-95, because frontline healthcare workers need these, and they are already in short supply. Instead, they provide a guide to making your own.

As these masks fit less snuggly than clinical ones, the risk of pressure sores is lower. However, caring for the skin will further reduce the chances of pressure sores developing.

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