Fabric or detergent may be aggravating mask wearer

Keth Roach M.D.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I wear a face mask whenever I go into a store. My problem is that even wearing a mask for a short time gives me a scratchy throat the next day, causing me great anxiety because I fear that I have contracted the coronavirus. That scratchiness does dissipate during the day, but it can take a while. I wear commercially made fabric masks, and I have a few homemade ones as well. Do medical people have this problem? How do you avoid it? -- C.A.C.

ANSWER: It is possible you are sensitive to the fabric in the mask, but natural fibers such as cotton, from which many masks are made, are unlikely to cause a reaction. Detergents or fabric softeners may also cause allergic reactions, so you might hand-wash and air-dry them. You can also try a different fabric or a paper surgical mask. Washing frequently with mild soap and avoiding scents may help.

However, I think it more likely that it's just the wearing of a tight mask that can cause the annoying scratchy sensation. I have certainly noticed the tendency to ascribe any kind of symptom, especially a cough or sneeze, to coronavirus, since it is so prevalent in many parts of North America. We are understandably so nervous about getting it, due to complications and the fear of infecting our family and loved ones.

I have found that these feelings tend to subside with time, so you might try wearing your mask at home for a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase the length of time you wear the mask. By doing so in a safe environment like your home, I suspect that you will get used to it.

Surgeons wear masks in the operating room for many hours, and most of us taking care of patients infected with COVID-19 have gotten used to wearing them for very prolonged periods, although I personally still find them somewhat annoying, especially when walking around outside in the summer heat. Masks have proven to be a very useful part of the fight against coronavirus, so I applaud you for wearing them whenever you go out.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a healthy 41-year-old man. My father was a healthy man but died suddenly of a brain aneurism at age 50. As I get closer to his age, I wonder if I am at risk for developing this condition and whether I can prevent meeting the same fate. -- M.B.

ANSWER: There are many kinds of aneurisms, and some of them do tend to run in families. One of the most common is called a saccular aneurism. When it ruptures, it is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, sometimes called a bleed in the brain.

For family members of a person who had that kind of hemorrhage, there is a small risk. In your case, with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with an aneurism, the risk of developing a subarachnoid hemorrhage in the next 10 years is less than 1%. Most of the aneurisms identified from screening are so small that they do not need surgery, so guidelines from the American Stroke Association recommend against screening. However, people with two or more family members with hemorrhages from aneurism should consider screening, since the risk of developing subarachnoid hemorrhage is over 7% in 10 years.