Is It OK to Wear Masks All Day? How to Handle Sniffle Season With Masks

Child in mask applies hand sanitizer

 

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Keeping masks on your kids all day can be a struggle, but it's so much harder if they're not feeling well. After all, the last thing they want to do is keep a mask over their face when their nose is itchy or runny.

Unfortunately, while spring might have arrived, cold season isn't over. Plus, spring allergies are upon us, which means we're about to be right in the middle of sniffle season.

If you're concerned about how to keep your family safe (and clean) this spring, we're here to help. Here are some tips to keep your kids wearing their masks—even when it's uncomfortable—so that the whole family can stay safe.

A Little Good News

Masks and face shields provide a little bit of protection against environmental allergies. "They physically block some of the pollen from invading into your nasal passage," says Kanwaljit Brar, MD, a pediatric allergist at NYU Langone Health's Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital.

Start By Re-Emphasizing Why Masks Are Important

Even when your children are sick, it's important that you stay consistent when emphasizing the importance of wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Caregivers just need to stress that the mask is to keep you healthy, but also to keep all your friends, your teachers, and all your family members healthy too," says Clare Bush Addis, MD, a pediatrician with Columbia Doctors in New York City. "So you're being a good citizen when you wear your mask because you're protecting all the people you know and love."

Model Good Mask-Wearing Behavior

The key to mask compliance in your household actually starts with you. "Kids model the behavior of what they see," Addis explains. "So when they see that every time Mommy goes outside, she puts her mask on, they're more likely to put it on too."

In other words, let them know that you have a runny nose too—but that it isn't stopping you from wearing your mask properly.

Get Your Kids' Toys In On the Mask-Wearing

If you have toddlers or elementary school-aged children, it can be helpful to take the mask role-modeling a step further: Have their favorite toys participate, too.

"It can help to have their teddy bears or their dolls model mask-wearing," Addis explains. "So when we go for a walk, Mr. Teddy Bear has to wear his mask because he wants to stay safe."

Help Kids Be More Comfortable in Their Mask

One of the biggest reasons why your child might take their mask off is because they're simply uncomfortable. Masks may even contribute to nasal irrtation.

Kanwaljit Brar, MD

We've been seeing kids who are wearing a lot of masks during the day at school and one of the things we're noticing is that, with mask-wearing, because you don't get a lot of humidified air circulating through your nose, the nose tends to get really dry and irritated.

— Kanwaljit Brar, MD

This is uncomfortable, so your child is more likely to remove their mask or rub their nose. "So for a lot of my patients, I'm recommending saline spray or saline gel because it is moisturizing," Brar explains.

Runny noses also tend to irritate the skin around the nose, making it red or inflamed—especially if kids are blowing their noses a lot. The fabric or paper of the mask rubbing against this inflamed skin can be really uncomfortable.

"Apply a barrier ointment to protect their skin if their nose is irritated," Brar says. "Something like petroleum jelly will keep the skin moisturized and prevent skin irritation." Petroleum jelly also works anywhere the mask rubs against the skin, such as along the jawline or on the cheeks.

Instruct Kids to Blow Their Nose Away From Others

There's nothing worse than having a runny nose—except not being able to wipe the snot away. So if your kids are getting frustrated about not being able to wipe or blow their nose with their mask on, let them know they can—but they have to step away from other people.

"If they're in their classroom, tell them to ask the teacher if they can step away to wipe their nose or blow it quickly," Addis says. "It's just really important to step away from friends, classmates, and others if you're going to take your mask off."

What this means, of course, is that if they're in a crowded place where they can't step away—such as on a bus—they have to wait until it's safe. But emphasize that this will be an exception, not the rule. Hopefully, they won't have to suffer that runny nose feeling for very long.

Always Pack Spare Masks

Having a variety of masks will ensure that if your kid has to wait before wiping their nose—or if they sneeze into it—that they can change out of the dirty masks as soon as it is safe to do so.

"It's a good idea to go ahead and just try to put on a new one as soon as you can," Addis says. Not only is that more comfortable, but it's healthier too.

Teach Kids How to Remove Masks Correctly

"One of the things I tell my own kids is that, if you're going to remove the mask, always do it by the loops—not by pulling it down from the front," says Brar. "The front of the mask is the dirty part, the part with not only germs but pollen that makes allergies worse."

"I'd also rather it just hang off their face than sit on their chin like a chin strap," she continues, if they're just removing it quickly to wipe their nose.

Remind Them Not to Touch or Itch Their Face

This is tough during both cold and allergy season because everyone wants to rub their nose when it's runny or itchy from allergies. The good news is the mask is there as a reminder. If you're outside during allergy season, according to Addis, you can also encourage kids to wear sunglasses, because they'll prevent your kids from rubbing their eyes with dirty hands.

"But otherwise," she says, it's just about constantly reminding them that 'your eyes and your nose can have germs and you want to try not to touch them, but if you accidentally do, just make sure to go wash or sanitize your hands as soon as you remember.'"

Change Everyone's Masks Daily

Regularly washing everyone's masks is always important—but it's even more important if someone in the family has a cold or sniffles. Brar notes that it's important not to reuse masks more than one day or even for one event.

"We have a basket in the front of our house," Brar says. "And when my kids come home from school, they have to take their masks off and drop them in the basket so we can wash them."

Don't Take Risks

If your child won't wear their mask because they're uncomfortable during cold or allergy season, avoid taking them out in public whenever you can. It's not worth the risk of getting them sicker.

In addition, if your kid's cold is getting worse and you start to worry that they're really ill, call your pediatrician. "Parents know their child," Addis says, "so they generally recognize if it's a cold or allergies, but if you're not totally sure, err on the side of caution." She suggests that, if you're doubtful, it's better to call your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

It's never going to be easy to get your kids to keep their masks on—especially during sniffle season. But if you keep reminding them of the importance—and make wearing their masks as comfortable as it can be—you'll know you're keeping your family as safe as possible.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others. Updated October 7, 2020.