October through March, is when people with seasonal allergies are most likely to get that runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.
One way to deal with these symptoms is to wear a nose-and-face mask. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) recommends using a nasal protection garment, such as a waterproof cotton sheet mask, for up to two hours during the nose-and-face mist, brought on by pollen and other allergens in the air.
But even the ACAAI doesn’t advocate wearing them for more than this short period. The American College of Medical (ACMC) says to avoid wearing them unless the nose and eyes are continuously exposed to the inside of an aerosol device or outside air.
Because the masks prevent nasal drainage, they’re more efficient at absorbing some allergens than they are at allowing air to escape from the nose.
As such, this type of mask was the primary reason for the decline in the CDC’s daily cold and flu benchmarks for this time of year, according to the agency’s quarterly Allergy and Asthma Surveillance Report, issued earlier this month.
Flu reports decline in late winter
The report notes that as of February 24, the CDC collected 200,000 reports of influenza-like illness (FLIs) and 302,100 reports of Influenza A (H3N2) illness.
Compare this to the last quarter of the winter, when a quarter of the reports were of the respiratory flu and the most popular flu was Influenza A (H1N1), according to the report.
The decline in all reported episodes of the respiratory flu from the previous quarter shows an overall decline in flu activity in all geographic regions. Most of the regions reported declines in both daytime and overnight flu activity.
Also, the weather seemed to play a role in influenza activity.
In one example, South Bend, Indiana, has already seen a decrease in influenza-like illness activity.
“As the weather gets colder, people tend to spend more time indoors. That could account for the lower incidence of seasonal influenza that we’re seeing this year,” said Dr. Cara Shepherd, a pediatrician with primary care practice in Chicago.
‘End of an era’
Dr. Peter Hum, a professor of clinical medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the reduction in flu activity “puts an end to an era. No one I know of has any sort of company wearing nasal protection garment.”
Hum said wearing the nasal protection garment in the winter should depend on the individual.
“Some people seem to like to start taking precautions really late in the season when it would be ineffective and they get very sick,” Hum said.
Hum said winter is not the peak season for ragweed, which causes the worst ragweed allergies, but it can be.
Wearing a nose-and-face mask to avoid bringing in the pollen and other particles does “make sense” in the summer, he said. However, wearing it in winter “doesn’t,” Hum said.
While nasal mucus is a lot drier than it is in the summer, Hum said, he advises against wearing the mask indoors — as large quantities of bacteria may make its way into the mask’s pores.
Also, sweat can collect in the nose and face and cause breath to turn yellow or blue.
Hum said it’s very difficult to know exactly when to wear the nose-and-face mask, but “if it doesn’t rain, it’s probably the wrong time. If you see some snow outside, or if you want to do something outdoors, don’t use the nose-and-face masks.”