It’s hot. You’re sweaty. And if you’re still coronavirus-conscious, then you’re wearing your mask.
Not that the thick humidity of summer makes it any easier.
You may have the impulse to forgo a face mask until the fall. Don’t, said Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA and director of the university’s Center for Global and Immigrant Health.
“It’s important to wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” she said, referencing a study published earlier this month that found both strategies are the most effective ways to prevent coronavirus transmission. “All of these layers are measures of protection.”
It’s especially important to keep doing both of those right now – at least 19 states have seen surges in coronavirus cases as of late.
So if you have trouble breathing through your mask or the beads of sweat running down your cheeks make it uncomfortable to wear, read on – you can survive the summer heat and stave off coronavirus.
Why your mask may be making you hotter
If you feel suffocated beneath your mask, that’s probably because it’s trapping heat inside, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
“A key issue is that when we breathe, we cool off, so wearing a mask that (gets) quickly hot can lead to an elevated temperature in extreme heat, especially if accompanied by humidity,” Wenzel said.
In other words, if you can’t breathe easily through your mask and you’re wearing it outside, you could overheat.
If you feel yourself struggling to breathe, take your mask off – just make sure you can keep at least six feet of distance from others – sit in the shade and drink some water, Wenzel suggested.
If you feel dizzy or your heart is racing, you need to remove the mask, get out of the heat and seek medical attention, he said – those could be signs of heat exhaustion.
Wenzel had advice for the thousands of Americans out protesting, too: Continue to wear masks while you navigate crowds, hydrate frequently, and take a break from the heat when you can. It helps to put a cold, wet towel on your face and neck periodically, he said.
Avoid extreme heat if possible
If your trip outside can wait until it’s cooler, it should, Rimoin said.
“If you must go outside, you might want to avoid going out when it’s really hot,” she said.
In extreme heat and humidity, it can be harder to breathe through your mask. Rimoin suggests if you’ve got to get outside, go first thing in the morning or later in the evening before the heavy heat sticks around. If it can wait, choose to venture out on a day when it’s cooler.
Pick a breathable mask material
Part of your breathing problems could be due to your mask material.
“How well you can breathe through a material is as important as how well it stops the spread of disease,” Rimoin said.
Cotton masks are preferred by many for their “breathability” and comfort, she said. Masks with cotton outer layers and flannel inner layers also work well.
The ideal cloth face mask should fit “snugly but comfortably” against your face, and you should be able to wash and dry it without damaging its shape, she said.
Make sure your mask is on correctly
If you’re having trouble breathing through your mask, confirm you’re wearing it correctly before ditching it entirely.
Your mask should cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of your face but loosely on the inside so your breathing isn’t obstructed, Rimoin said.
If you need to take off the mask, only do so when you’re at least six feet away from others, she said.
Bring a spare if it’s sweaty
A wet mask can stick to your face and obstruct your breathing in a different way. If you find yourself sweating through your mask, bring extras.
Wenzel said he suggests subbing in a spare mask you carry in a plastic sandwich bag. There’s a better chance it’ll stay relatively clean if you carry it that way.
Wear a mask when it’s necessary
The risk of coronavirus is generally lower outdoors, where wind can blow the virus away and you can (hopefully) maintain distance from others.
Pools and beaches are generally safe, too, since water isn’t thought to harbor the virus. Just keep your distance from others in and out of the water, since respiratory droplets can still travel when you’re outside.
It’s not practical to wear a mask in the water, but they should still be worn when you get out of it, especially if you can’t get the necessary distance between you and others, Rimoin said.
If the heat weren’t enough, respiratory issues can impede your breathing too. If you have asthma, chronic lung disease or another respiratory illness, be mindful of how your breathing ability changes in the heat, Wenzel said. If it gets worse, stay out of the heat as much as possible.