woman wearing a nose mask

The Nose Mask Debate: Is It Effective Against COVID or Not?

 COVID-19 normalized the public wearing of masks. Although these masks are helpful in preventing the spread of the virus, they can be inconvenient. Apart from some people having difficulty breathing, it also poses a challenge when you want to eat or drink outside.

Eating out is tied to an increased risk of COVID infection. Most places require customers to wear masks upon their arrival, as well as whenever they walk around the restaurant (even when you go to the bathroom). The only time you can keep your mask off is when you eat or drink.

Eating and drinking while you walk is another level of difficulty. You keep on tugging your mask for a quick bite or sip while walking on the street.

Is there any way to enjoy your food and stay safe at the same time?

Here’s where the nose mask designed for COVID protection comes in.

In the Know(s): What is the Nose Mask?

Early in March 2021, researchers from Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute created and patented the nose mask (otherwise known as the “nasal mask”) to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

According to Milenio, a newspaper in Mexico, these nose masks protect wearers from infection during activities that require the removal of face masks, which include eating and drinking.

The nose mask is a mask designed to fit around your nose. It’s a smaller version of the regular face mask. Scientist Gustavo Acosta Altamarino designed these nose masks to protect people while they drink and eat. He and his team designed the masks to block out aerosols.

According to Altamarino and his team, a nose mask offers great protection, especially if the user can’t maintain a healthy distance during dental appointments, long-term flights or in restaurants. You can wear these masks under a normal face mask as an added layer of protection for when you have to pull down your mask to eat, drink or talk, according to a Reuters report.

Currently, the masks are not available for public use, but the company is working with different manufacturers to manufacture their nose masks.

The Public’s Opinion on Nose Masks

woman eating while wearing a nose mask

Videos of the Mexican nose mask hit the Internet and spread like wildfire in the same month. Most Internet users found the image of a small mask sitting on their noses hilarious. Countless memes were shared online with the joke being that you looked like a masked-up duck if you wear the nose mask.

Other people called it another ridiculous attempt at changing the traditional face mask. After the whole conversation about mesh face masks (i.e., a face mask covered in rhinestones; these mesh masks were made infamous by celebrities like Lana Del Rey), people were tired of others “upgrading” the fully-functional traditional face masks.

But the online conversation also included the safety and convenience of these masks. In terms of convenience, the nose masks may score 90 percent. After all, it reduces the need of pulling your mask repeatedly (which can also increase your risk for COVID). However, safety is still an issue.

Can nose masks keep you safe against COVID?

Health Organizations Answer: Are Nose Masks Effective?

As mentioned, the National Polytechnic Institute doesn’t insist on replacing a regular face mask with a nose mask. Instead, they encourage wearing nose masks under your regular mask. In case you need to eat or drink (or are in a situation where you can’t wear a full face mask), you’re still protected.

Some healthcare professionals consider the idea interesting, with a handful considering the nose mask as “better than nothing.”

However, many doctors are still unsure of how covering your nose and not your mouth reduces the rates of COVID infection. Although a Johns Hopkins Medicine research suggests that the nose is a key entry point for the COVID-19 virus, the virus can still spread via aerosol droplets. You can still contract COVID-19 if the virus enters your system through your mouth and eyes.

When you use the nose mask, you’re protecting only one channel (your nose) and leaving the rest exposed might be helpful. But there are no studies that confirm wearing a nose mask while eating or drinking outside protects you fully from COVID-19.

The amount of aerosolization between the mouth and nose may differ, depending on if someone is sneezing, coughing, speaking or just sitting quietly. But since these factors remain unpredictable, sticking to a nose mask only is not advisable.

While a nose-only mask is worth more studies, its lack of data to verify its effectiveness should still discourage the public from heavily depending on these alone. Instead, it’s best to use the right face masks and mask up properly.

What is the Best Mask for COVID?

face masks with different designs

Face masks are lifesavers. These decrease the transmission of COVID-19 by blocking out aerosols that can pass through your nose and mouth. In fact, wearing a face mask in public places is proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, some masks are more effective than others.

The most common face mask options include:

  • Surgical masks. Also called medical masks, these masks are loose-fitting and disposable. They protect the mouth and nose from germ-infected droplets. They can also keep you safe from splashes or sprays that could enter the mouth or the nose. Surgical masks can also keep droplets from the wearer from spreading.
  • Cloth/fabric masks. These masks can trap droplets released by a person who coughs, sneezes or talks while wearing the mask. Fabric and cloth masks reduce the spread of COVID-19, can be washed and worn again and are easy to buy or make. When you use cloth masks, make sure to switch to a clean one immediately after the one you’re wearing becomes dirty or wet.
  • N95 masks. N95 masks offer a higher degree of protection compared to the cloth or surgical masks. These masks can filter out small and large particles. As its name says, it can block out 95 percent of liquids or particles that may come in contact with the face. These masks, however, are not for general public use. Reserve them for healthcare workers and other people who directly work with COVID-19 patients.

Are There Face Masks That Should Not Be Worn During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The nose mask is still up for debate. But if there is one nose mask you should steer clear from, it’s the mesh face mask.

These sparkly mesh masks are good to look at but have an infamous back story. Anti-maskers wore these masks as a “compromise” during the height of the pandemic. These masks depend on the transparent mesh to protect the wearer from the virus. However, the holes of the mesh are big enough to let any virus access the wearer.

Face masks with valves are also a big no-no. These masks make it easier for you to breathe, but they also make it easier for you to exhale germs. The one-way valves do not offer much protection. If you are sick with COVID-19 (unknowingly or knowingly), you could still spread the virus to other people.

A rule of thumb when shopping for face masks: go for those that will completely cover your nose and mouth. Make sure that your mask has two or more layers of breathable fabric. Also, it should snugly fit the sides of your face so that the virus has no access to your nose and mouth.

The Verdict: Nose Masks Aren’t Enough

A nose mask shouldn’t give you a false sense of security. While the idea of wearing a nose mask while eating or drinking isn’t necessarily a bad idea, the lack of research may compromise your safety. Instead, stick with the regular face masks, which are backed up by science.

As for wearing masks at restaurants and bars or while you’re walking and eating, remove your mask only when you are eating and drinking. Put it back whenever you’re not actively doing either — yes, even if you’re just sitting at the table.

These days, everyone nose it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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Maggie Wheeler
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