Ward: Masks reduce respiratory illness

Medical Officer of Health, Dr Carl Ward, believes certain behaviours associated with the COVID-19 restrictions seem to have assisted in cutting down asthma-related visits to the healthcare system.

Ward, who is based at the Glebe Polyclinic in St George said: “Let’s say anecdotally before COVID-19 that on average any clinic would have at least a “wheezer” per day that needed nebulising.

“When we started wearing masks, one of the things we would have seen was the number of persons presenting with respiratory problems dropped. Respiratory problems are one of the major triggers for asthma. All of the things that could decrease your chance of getting COVID-19 also reduce your chance of getting any respiratory illnesses which would trigger or worsen people’s asthma.”

The doctor noted that prior to the pandemic, it was common for people to ignore signs of illness and head into public spaces and infect others.

“What we as a society should have been doing before is the wearing of masks to protect others or staying home altogether. In Asia, because of the outbreaks of SARS and bird flu and any other illnesses and because of the issues they would have had with poor air quality, it was socially acceptable to be walking around in a mask pre COVID-19.”

However, if this was done in Barbados “people would have been wondering what they might have or if they’re a madman”, he said.

An asthma sufferer using a prescribed aerosol spray inhaler. (Asthma UK)

Now, people take more careful note of symptoms and how they feel.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic it was extremely common for people to feel ill, decide they weren’t going to take a day off from work or couldn’t take the day off because their job wasn’t secure and they would go into work and get everyone in there sick. The restrictions and extra vigilance have improved things.”

However he cautioned that any decrease in asthma-related visits during the pandemic doesn’t guarantee that there are less asthma attacks or asthma-related problems happening. He said they also had to consider that people might have stayed away because they did not want to go into a facility or get locked down from work, so they would be managing from home.

Ward said the focus should be on proper “mask hygiene”.

“There are always going to be people who wear masks incorrectly and wear them too long and those that don’t know that when masks get wet they don’t work anymore. It no longer traps particles so anything that hits the mask will be pulled through,” he pointed out.

“It is also important to avoid masks with a valve as they allow expiration. If you have something, those masks will allow it out the valve into general circulation and infect others. I don’t like cloth masks but they are better than no masks. N95 and KN95 masks work best but they aren’t necessary. You might not need the 90% protection they provide in your day to day life. Surgical masks also do the job.”

President of the Barbados Asthma Association, Rosita Pollard, also stated that she noticed a decline in asthmatics getting in touch for medication or any other form of assistance.

Ward’s tips for asthmatics:

Stay hydrated. If you have mucus in your lungs and you are not hydrated it will be harder for it to move.
Use your preventer medicine as prescribed and do some degree of self-monitoring.
It can’t be a one size fits all method to living with asthma so should seek out your physician for more meditation.
Know what changes are being made to the way your asthma is being managed. (JC)

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