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Masks have been used for three decades to avoid exposure to pollen and curb symptoms of allergy. This simple mechanism saves more than one emergency room visit and reduces the consumption of rescue medications, among which bronchodilators such as Ventolin and antihistamines stand out. But allergy sufferers have not used them for fear of being taken by sick people, says the chairman of the Aerobiology committee of the Spanish Society of Allergology in Clinical Immunology, Ángel Moral. Now that they are compulsory and can be worn without fear of being noticed, the specialist warns that any mask is not worth it; There are only two that reduce pollen allergy symptoms, and only one of them is recommended in the current context.

The doctor dismisses the hygienic masks because “there is no assurance that they will protect against infection by viruses or pollens, neither the wearer nor the rest.” That leaves two options for those interested in curbing sneezing, itching and runny nose that endure every spring: surgical and protective masks, better known as FFP. The former serve to block the droplets that are expelled by those who cough and sneeze – viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 that travel – and do not filter outside particles smaller than 1 micron. It is enough to block allergenic pollens because their sizes range between 15 microns of the parietaria and 35 microns of the arizónica —The pollen of grasses, plane trees and olive trees has an intermediate size of about 25 microns. But when one tries to put a barrier to these pesky flying pimples, surgical masks are not the right choice.

Moral assures that “they are not valid for allergy sufferers even if they catch pollens because they do not fit properly on the face, so they allow them to pass through the edges to the nose and mouth.” So that this does not happen, indicate as the only option the face masks FFP, which block pollen with their polypropylene microfibers and seal any gap thanks to their nose clip and ergonomic shape. Wearing an FFP1 mask, which traps 80% of particles larger than 0.3 microns, is sufficient to reduce exposure, “although FFP2 and FFP3 are more effective” (filter 92% and 98%, respectively ).

A decisive detail when it comes to protecting yourself and others is that FFP masks can come with or without an exhalation valve. Those that incorporate it allow to take it longer because they prevent humidity and heat from increasing inside. “It has been proven that the temperature with these valves decreases about four degrees,” argues Moral. In addition, they make it more bearable to combine the use of a mask with that of the glasses, since, by eliminating moisture, the valve helps to prevent condensation on the lenses and fog up. However, When the safety distance of two meters is not guaranteed, using valve masks is risky: “The valve is not going to prevent the mask wearer from contagion by exhaling contaminated air through it.”

Valveless FFP masks do protect others in the event that an infected person coughs or sneezes with them on, says the allergist. Since there is a possibility that a person has the new coronavirus and is asymptomatic, valveless FFP masks are best suited for the current setting. Also, using other types has an added drawback. “The use of hygienic or surgical masks in pollen allergy patients will produce a false sense of protection due to their ineffectiveness in trapping them, which can cause an asthma crisis,” concludes the specialist. And underlines: “The masks to be used by patients who are infected with covid-19 are surgical

What allergies owe to confinement

People who have been confined to their homes in recent weeks have not only made a decisive contribution to curbing the pandemic of coronavirus. They have also benefited from less exposure to spring pollen, which has begun to float in the environment as the state of alarm progressed. “The pollens that are produced during the spring in Spain, depending on the different geographical areas, are that of the plane tree, in the second half of March [el confinamiento comenzó en 15 del mismo mes] and the first of April: that of the birch, in April and May; and that of grasses and olive trees, from April to June, “explains the specialist in allergology and clinical immunology.

If Moral is correct, the established schedule for taking walks has also contributed to minimizing symptoms among adults. It is often said that the times of the day with the highest concentration of pollen are the first and last hours of the day. Specifically, from 5.00 to 10.00 and from 19.00 to 22.00, some time bands that correspond quite well with the moments dedicated to walks by adults and the elderly. However, Moral assures that he has spent time unsuccessfully searching for the reference that justifies this information. “It is not referenced anywhere, but there are documents that say the opposite,” he says, annoyed. “I personally measure pollen concentrations every day” without obtaining that data.

“What has been shown is that the hours with the highest concentrations of pollens in the atmosphere are between twelve in the morning and five in the afternoon, coinciding with the moments of greater temperature and light, which favor the exit of pollen from the flowers. “According to the scientific literature, this is especially true in olive and grass pollens, the most studied and which produce the most allergies, says Moral. And he adds an exception to this circumstance: “One of the age groups most vulnerable to allergies due to pollens is children, and they are precisely allowed to go outside in the hottest time zones, which are the hours when there are more pollens in the atmosphere. “

Apart from the schedules, there are other factors that have contributed to making the spring more bearable for allergy sufferers, such as the restriction of mobility, since pollen gathers around polluting particles: “Along with the rains, it has cleaned the atmosphere of pollens like the one of the plane tree, with which the symptomatology has reduced until now “. From now on, it will be seen. The last rains have favored the growth of grasses, which predictably will make the presence of their pollen and that of the olive tree be older in May and June. And the interruption of maintenance work in parks and gardens has caused a growth of weeds that allergy sufferers will also notice.

However, “the concentrations of grass pollens are going to depend on the temperature and the rains that occur these days. If it rained abundantly they would be reduced by the cleaning effect of the rain. Furthermore, if the temperatures were high, the grasses would they would dry prematurely. ” And dead the plant the allergy ended. Time will tell how much allergy sufferers will appreciate having chosen the best mask.

Seven habits that contain the symptoms

Thanks to the use of the proper masks, people with a pollen allergy are expected to have fewer symptoms this spring. However, it is only one of a long list of precautions that can be taken to make the flower season more bearable. These are the ones that cannot be left out.

– Check pollen levels, which can be done through a website of the Spanish Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology or applications endorsed by the entity.

– Avoid field trips and outdoor activities on high pollination days. Do not mow the lawn or mow trees.

– Close the windows of the house. Ventilate the house during the first hours of the day or at night, and for a short time.

– Outdoors, wear sunglasses and a mask that covers the nose and mouth on days of high pollination. You can also use nasal plugs.

– Shower and change clothes when you get home, since we can wear pollens on clothes or hair.

– Do not hang clothes outside on windy days because they will collect pollens.

– Travel with the car vents up and use a pollen filter on the vehicles.

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