15 0ctober 2020
Wearing a mask or face covering when leaving the home is now recommended or required in some parts of Australia, to help protect yourself and others from community transmission of COVID-19. Currently this includes Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
States and territories will make these decisions based on their local situations, so it is important to stay up to date on the latest advice in your area.
You can find this information from your state health authority, including information about people who may be exempt from wearing a mask due to medical reasons.
In the case of Victoria, from 11.59pm on Sunday 2 August, all Victorians over the age of 12 years must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.
The Department of Health and Human Services Victoria (DHHS) has outlined a number of lawful excuses and exceptions for not wearing a face covering, including relevant medical conditions. Speak with your doctor if you have concerns or to discuss what will work best for you.
Which type of masks should people in the community wear for COVID-19 protection?
For people in the general public, wearing a face mask will reduce the chance of you acquiring or transmitting COVID-19 to others. A suitable mask would be either a surgical face mask or a cloth face mask.
The mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin. It should be loose fitting but still secure enough to stay in place.
Make sure you can talk with your mask on and that it doesn’t irritate you, so you are not tempted to touch it or pull it out of place, which could put you at risk from touching your face or limit its effectiveness.
In Victoria, you must wear a face covering when you are leaving the home unless you have a lawful reason for not doing so.
If you live in a state or territory where face coverings have not been mandated, masks can be an added level of protection when you are in situations where physical distancing may be difficult, such as at the supermarket or on public transport.
It is also important to maintain good hygiene, which includes washing hands often with soap and water, using a tissue and covering your mouth when your cough or sneeze, and avoiding close contact with others.
Find out more: How to safely wear a face covering
Are masks helpful for people with hay fever?
With peak pollen and thunderstorm asthma season on the way for south-eastern Australia from September to January, it’s important to understand the different types of face masks and the circumstances when health authorities recommend wearing them.
Thunderstorm asthma can happen suddenly to people in spring or summer when there is a lot of pollen in the air and the weather is hot, dry, windy and stormy.
A recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice suggests masks may be helpful. It showed that nurses who wore masks reported reduced hay fever or allergic rhinitis symptoms, while those who wore N95/ P2 respirators also noted a reduction in more severe allergy symptoms.
If worn correctly, a P2/N95 mask may reduce exposure to airborne allergens and reduce symptoms but should not be an alternative to regular treatments for asthma or allergic rhinitis. A P2/ N95 mask, also known as a respirator, is designed to filter out very small particles (PM2.5 particles) but needs to fit properly and have an airtight seal to be effective.
The best way to prevent your asthma worsening is to make sure you use your inhaled preventer and have an up-to-date asthma action plan provided by your doctor. If you have allergic rhinitis, use of a nasal corticosteroid preventer is the best way to control your symptoms.
Are masks helpful when air quality is poor?
Airborne pollution is also an important cause of worsened asthma and airway symptoms. Pollution may result from exposure to traffic and other industries or exposure to bushfire smoke. Airborne particles are also divided by size into large (PM10) and very small (PM2.5), with all sizes potentially harmful.
Airborne pollution is harmful for everyone. Young children, people with chronic lung disease, including asthma and other chronic diseases are more susceptible to the short- and long-term effects of exposure to airborne pollution.
A P2/N95 mask when properly fitted has been shown to filter out some of these harmful PM2.5 particles, but they have not been shown to reduce symptoms or clearly provide protection against the harmful effects of air pollution. It is thought that both surgical masks and cloth masks will provide much less protection again.
As P2/N95 masks are difficult to wear all the time with uncertain benefit, they are generally not recommended for use by the general public. If people susceptible to the effects of air pollution, including those with asthma find themselves in a situation with sudden exposure, such as to bushfire smoke, they may provide some benefit.
Does having asthma affect people’s ability to wear masks?
For most people wearing a mask with asthma should not be a problem.
Wearing a mask will not lower the amount of inspired oxygen and has not been shown to reduce oxygen saturations, increase the work of breathing increase carbon dioxide in the blood or worsen asthma. They will reduce the chance of infection with SARS-CoV2 and probably other respiratory viruses.
Some people with asthma may find wearing a face mask uncomfortable. Try to wear a mask that is most comfortable for you.
Ensure you follow your state or territory health authority for the latest mask advice in your local area.
Find out more: Asthma Australia’s tips to ease into wearing a face covering.
Read the Australian Government Department of Health’s COVID-19 health alert
Visit the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 info hub
Visit NSW Health for more information about P2 masks, including instructions for wearing a mask and conducting a fit check