William A Gardner




Health & Wellness

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Homemade Cotton Masks carry Dangers

It is well known that sometimes problems can be created unknowingly through actions taken for the best of reasons. The world is a complicated place. No parent wants to be in a situation where something they have done to protect their child results in a lifelong impediment. Thus we need to be thoughtful and give careful consideration before placing unusual requirements on people, and especially children, in the course of daily life.

What if in a year or two your child begins having trouble sleeping, is often hyperactive or lethargic, occasionally develops a type of mild asthma, and in winter experiences itchy skin rashes? When it persists you take action to determine the problem. But visits to the doctor and standard allergy tests appear inconclusive and there aren't the normal allergy symptoms of red eyes and runny nose. Changing the diet and shopping for organic food makes little difference. What could be the problem?

I have experienced all of these symptoms. They began many years ago and it took years to determine the cause. Standard medical tests and advice were of little help when doctors suggested that it might be due to matters of stress, diet, chemicals in the environment, molds, or other factors. Perhaps even moving to another climate might help. Then there was the "all in your head" suggestion (hypochondria) which is sometimes trotted out by a physician when they run out of ideas. But, after trying multiple suggested solutions including acupuncture with no success, it was evident that I would have to either live permanently with poor sleep or perform my own research and experimentation. I began a process of eliminating possibilities. It brought to mind the famous quote from Arthur Conan Doyle:

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

It took years but I was finally left with a most improbable reality - I had developed an allergy to cotton. Not only that, but the symptoms weren't the usual red eyes and runny nose, but rather hyperactivity, difficulty sleeping, non-restorative sleep, occasional mild asthma, chest pains, and patches of itchy skin. How did this happen?

Once I had determined the source of the problem the remainder of the puzzle fell quickly into place. Years earlier I had spent a long period of time renovating a house. Such an endeavour is a messy dusty business and I had worn a mask which happened to be cotton - a common dust filter at the time. Thus for long periods of work, some of them stressful, I had been breathing through a cotton mask.

Now cotton is made up of very fine fibres which slowly break down. When you clean out the lint filter on your clothes dryer you may realize that most of it is comprised of tiny cotton fibres. House dust includes cotton fibres. Cotton is so ubiquitous in our environment that we hardly think of it as a source of micro fibres. And when you breath through a cotton mask, especially during exercise or play, you are breathing those cotton micro fibres into your lungs. In addition, some of them catch in the mucous membrane of the nose where they end up in the gastro-intestinal tract. Either way they will come in contact with your immune system and, under some circumstances, may illicit an unfortunate negative immune response. That is, the person will develop an allergy to cotton. It is not a common circumstance, but the longer and more often one wears a cotton mask the more likely that such an immune response might occur. And good luck getting your hyperactive child properly diagnosed.

Because of this personal experience I shudder when I see children wearing cotton masks in a playground, at a store, or contemplate them wearing such masks during long days at school. In particular, many parents have made masks at home from cotton swatches, some with very creative designs, and wash them regularly. It is a commendable reaction to the current concerns about the spread of viruses. Nevertheless one must consider what children are breathing and cotton dust is not completely harmless. Simply using organic cotton is not the answer.

Thus I would argue that anyone, and especially children, when necessary, wear commercial masks made from rayon and polypropylene or other synthetic material that doesn't shed micro fibres. Be aware that some medical masks have a cotton layer sandwiched between other types of material. A medical mask with no cotton would be more expensive but avoiding a cotton allergy is, I would suggest, worth the price.

This is not to imply that I am an anti-mask believer. Whether or not or under what circumstances one should wear a medical mask is not for me to say. Nevertheless the best defense against any disease is a healthy immune system – a protection far superior to any mask for most diseases. Consult a trusted doctor or other medical practitioner.

© William A. Gardner 2021 All Rights Reserved