As the Omicron COVID-19 variant sweeps through many countries, there’s been a renewed call to wear masks, preferably of the N95 variety. For more details regarding the different types of masks that are available, visit here.
However, many of my patients have significant mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and often have severe reactions to environmental chemicals and toxins. Many of you also have serious reactions to foods and excipients in medications and supplements. You can read my article about excipients here. Some of you have recently reported experiencing various symptoms while using masks. It’s now apparent that many of you may also be reacting to some of the chemicals found in the facemasks that are mandatory in public places. Please be aware of these reactions if you’re one of these patients. There are no easy solutions to this problem, as masking is mandatory in so many situations these days.
A colleague of mine in the MCAS world, Dr. Tania Dempsey, based in New York, recently alerted us all to a patient of hers with significant MCAS. The patient’s condition was well controlled, and she’d been vaccinated three times without any mast cell symptoms arising. The patient was using a N95 mask every day while working as a schoolteacher and began to have significant symptoms from Monday to Friday, which lessened over the weekend. Symptoms such as a scratchy throat, nasal pressure, acne, headaches, sleep disruption, and feelings such as ‘crawling skin’ were reported.
The patient eventually determined that these symptoms could very well be associated with facemasks. She started conducting research on the topic, on websites such as the following:
It was discovered that the types of masks she was using are contaminated with harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde, fluorocarbon, and polypropylene fiber, some of which could be causing the patient’s MCAS flare.
As millions of people are using these masks worldwide, it’s worthwhile asking our patients, if they’re experiencing a flare, what kind of mask they’re wearing on a regular basis and if they notice anything unusual after wearing it. Some symptoms are obvious, such as acne flares, also referred to as ‘maskne’, but some others could be caused by an enormous array of possible triggers. As Dr. Dempsey commented, it’s ironic that these masks are designed to block chemicals, including formaldehyde, yet this information about N95s has been known for years, going back to at least 2008. She further commented that, “since only a small percentage of people in certain industries were wearing them, it wasn’t public knowledge but now that we have potentially hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people wearing them, we need to be more aware (and we need better quality masks). One more point, KN95s could also be problematic, depending on the manufacturer.”
If you have MCAS and are having unusual flares of your symptoms, I suggest you do some research on the type of mask that you’re wearing. Keep asking questions. If you find information out there about a mask that’s less reactive, please share your data with our readers.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that many healthcare workers, who have to wear masks at every shift, report multiple symptoms and they don’t have MCAS. Their symptoms are strictly due to mechanical issues, in addition to environmental chemical toxicity. N95 masks are also quite uncomfortable to use, with many people reporting headaches, TMJ issues, and facial pressure problems. There are a few studies showing the worsening of headaches and TMJ symptoms in people, regardless of their mast cell status. Kellie Barnes, a very experienced physiotherapist who treats hypermobility issues, commented that masks can produce reduced cranial drainage if the masks are tight around the occipitomastoid suture region and the sigmoid sinus. This can lead to a pressurized head, headaches, and changes in a person’s voice. In addition, C1 cranial vertebra issues can arise when people place straps over C1, particularly if it exerts a posterior/anterior force on C1, which is a common occurrence.
It’s frequently been observed by myself and my colleagues, who routinely treat environmentally ill patients, that they’re often primarily associated with three types of buildings. These are hospitals, schools, and government-owned buildings, where exposure to environmental toxins, such as mold, EMFs, asbestos, ventilation and duct contamination, is quite routine.
With regards to using the N95 masks, it’s also apparent that there are many counterfeited N95 and KN95 masks on the market. Up to 60 percent of KN95 masks are said to be counterfeit, with most of those counterfeit masks coming from outside the US, where there’s often much less regulation about the kinds of chemicals that are used in production. It’s therefore very important to make sure that people are wearing legitimate N95 and KN95 masks, ideally manufactured in the US, as this might help those individuals that are struggling with mask chemical sensitivity.
Another of my colleagues, Dr Donna Kirchoff, posted a number of articles about this topic.
Resources to obtain non-counterfeit masks
A good overview of this issue, with helpful resources on where to buy non-counterfeit masks
Search Project N95 to find high quality masks, since they check to make sure the masks for sale are legitimate so you don’t have to do the homework.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.