Sensory issues and coronavirus masks, how to cope?
April 18, 2020 10:40 PM   Subscribe

I live in NYC where we now must wear masks where we can't totally socially distance, which means for me, in practice, the grocery store. But the heat, the constriction, the inner dampness of a mask, and the reduced airflow hit all of my bad-sensation sensitivities. Do you have any practical tips abut making mask-wearing less awful?

I know this is the new reality for a while! I accept that it is, and I also understand that other people like frontline healthcare workers, support staff, delivery people, etc, have it worse than me. But, telling myself that doesn't make the sensory issues go away. I have sensitive skin, that gets more sensitive when I'm anxious, that basically gets inflamed all summer from sweat and heat. Wearing a mask is like this times 10. Plus, the stiff physical constriction and lack of air. I could just about get through it for the weekly grocery run today, but barely. But how will I cope in the summer? With having to wear it out for hours and hours when the city reopens? I am a trained lab scientist so I'm used to PPE, but this is a whole new ballgame.

(The mask I have is a flat, double-layer, pleated-front one with ties that I made myself out of thin chambray I had in the apartment, since I can sew and there are essentially no other masks available. I could sew a different one if that is the answer. We're also, currently, allowed to just wear a scarf or bandana)

What are any of you sensitive people or with sensory issues doing or have done to deal with the awfulness of masks and make them any less awful? I've heard the answer to suck it up and deal with it already, so, consider it now redundant :)
posted by zingiberene to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Did you see this question?
posted by caek at 11:19 PM on April 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A person with the same issues has been singing the praises of the Ragmask I handsewed for her. Double layer 120gram cotton, no filter, but apparently the room in the "beak" makes all the difference.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:03 AM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have asthma, allergies and do not deal with heat very well. I often have to work in a high heat climate with lots of dust. I wear a cooling gaiter like this one when I can. They should be approved for use and do not restrict your breathing that much. It basically redirects your breath down your neck. To get the cooling effect they have to be a little wet. They work better when the humidity is low, but still help a bit in high humidity. I have used them when the heat index is in the 110-115 range. Ones like this may be a bit harder to find, but you can still find them.

You could also try to find a mask with a valve to hep you breath. They make washable masks with pockets behind the valve for PM2.5 filters. A lot of them come from China but you may be able to find them in New York.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 12:55 AM on April 19, 2020

Best answer: Masks with breathing-out valves are, unfortunately, considered likely to defeat the major purpose of non-medical masks, which is catching your potentially infectious secretions, not stopping the virus from reaching you. (Still being studied but that seems to be the current belief.) Moisture is also believed to make a mask less effective.

Have you tried one of the non-pleated ones, like (just as an example) this Tom Bihn number? It's a little less claustrophobic, I think.
posted by praemunire at 1:32 AM on April 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

I’ve been using a 100% cotton dish towel folded / tied as one may use a bandana. I’ve been finding it relatively comfortable and can usually get at least an hour or two before I need to readjust.

I suspect that some of us will end up with several masks for different purposes like having multiple pairs of shoes (🥾👟🥿).
posted by oceano at 3:29 AM on April 19, 2020

Best answer: One could, however, cover a mask with an exhalation valve with a bandanna, which might accomplish both objectives. I still need to play around with nosepieces, but a spare respirator + bandanna may be my best option.

I'm having a lot of difficulty with my glasses fogging up and, if I'm out of the house for any length of time (like, say, if I have to queue to get into the grocery store), starting to fall off my face. I believe the masks like the Tom Bihn one linked work a bit better for me (at least my glasses are on my nose, rather than fabric). The DIY patterns for that style look a bit like a hatchet--you cut two halves that are sewn together along the "blade". They're a bit less constricting, too, albeit not much.
posted by hoyland at 4:42 AM on April 19, 2020

Any chance you could jury rig a good face shield system instead using a clear plastic bag held some distance away from your face, such as by a hat brim worn underneath the bag?

Practice in the house to determine what triggers the frantic desire to rip the mask off or the uncontrollable urge to adjust it. It may be that if you have chronic shortness of breath that you cannot wear the mask whatever you do, that any restriction to the air coming in is going to be unmanageable. It may also be that you can figure out how to wear it in twenty minute bursts and you can work with that while outside by withdrawing from where there are people and opening your mask or taking it off briefly.

Experiment with making different masks. The one you have may be just too good at trapping air, whereas one with a looser weave may make doing errands possible even if it is not quite as good in terms of limiting contagion.

If you are asthmatic take your puffers before you put the mask on to ensure you have as open an airway as possible.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:59 AM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Given that you can sew and have fabric, I'd start there. I've made most of the major mask patterns at this point. I personally found the pleated ones didn't fit my face well and made me feel like I was suffocating. The Olson/Craft Passion style is way more comfortable for me, especially with a nose wire to keep it close to my face & adjustable tied ear elastics so I can get a snug, but not too snug, fit. If those are still too tight for you, I'd try the duck bill style.

I would also evaluate the chambray -- it may be a tight enough weave to be an issue. Hold it up to your face and try test-breathing through two layers. If it's very easy or very hard to breathe through, it's probably not a great mask option. If you have an old t-shirt you can sacrifice, you may also want to try a knit. Supposedly knit is not as good as woven, but if it's to protect other people, I think it'd still work better than a bandana.

Finally, on the sensory side, getting used to the mask before wearing it into high-stakes, stressful situations like the grocery store might help. Start by wearing it for 5-10 minutes in your apartment. You're not going anywhere and there's no stress. Then try checking the mail with it. Then try going for a short walk, etc. Hopefully easing into it will make it easier to learn to tolerate.

If a mask is just going to be a no-go for you, I'd look into improvising a face shield. I haven't tried that yet but I'm looking speculatively at my ball caps and 2 liter clear soda bottles. Hopefully we'll be seeing some good tutorials on face shield-making soon.
posted by pie ninja at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Rag Mask that i claim sanctuary linked above solved this problem for me. I'm amazed at how comfortable it is. I made mine out of quilting cotton with a piece of a reusable grocery bag in the middle as a filter. I used the elastic wasteband from an old piece of underwear as ear straps. You could also try to find out if anyone is 3-d printing plastic face shields in your area or buy one on etsy.
posted by entropyiswinning at 9:17 AM on April 19, 2020

I discovered that having the lining as a separate layer (in order to slide in a disposable filter) was bothering me because it was too loose and it got sucked in when I tried to breathe. Now I'm trying another pattern (Univ of Florida) that is like a vertical duck bill (?) with some alterations, naturally, but sewing the vertical center seam with the outer layer and inner layer together with a stiff weight of Pellon sandwiched in between keeps it away from my nose/mouth. So the filter is not replaceable but it is washable. If it doesn't hold up, I'll try a center vertical wire to keep it away from my face!
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:14 AM on April 19, 2020

Response by poster: thank you, everybody- caek, I missed that question and my keyword searching pre-ask didn't bring it up, so thank you so much for linking!

I'm going to order a more duckbill-like mask when one becomes available and try out the rag mask pattern. I have some jersey and some cotton lawn so I can play with weave densities. I hand-sew clothes as a hobby and don't have a sewing machine, so each iteration is a bit time consuming, but I feel a lot better having some specific advice.
posted by zingiberene at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2020

I made an Olson mask with a nose wire following this pattern, plus I stitched a vertical pocket on the inner lining where I could put another floral wire to keep it away from my face. (This is also the pattern with a pocket for a filter, so I felt fine putting stitch holes on the innermost lining.) It works better than the pleated version, and doesn't plaster itself to my nostrils when I breathe in, which was what drove me nuts about the pleated version.
posted by telophase at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2020

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