William A Gardner



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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.1

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 fibers 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 fibers. House dust includes cotton fibers. Cotton is so ubiquitous in our environment that we hardly think of it as a source of micro fibers. And when you breath through a cotton mask, especially during exercise or play, you are breathing those cotton micro fibers 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 the same type of micro fibers. 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.

Also keep in mind that a mask will quickly become damp, and a warm damp mask made from cloth or paper is a wonderful medium where a multitude of environmental molds, yeasts, fungi and bacteria can flourish. You are concentrating pathogens near your nose, and eyes and probably touching the mask frequently to adjust it. The microorganisms and their spores growing on the mask are then breathed back into the lungs and the sinus cavities adjacent to the brain.1 A report from Dr. James Meehan states, "Iā€™m seeing patients that have facial rashes, fungal infections, bacterial infections. Reports coming from my colleagues, all over the world, are suggesting that [cases of] bacterial pneumonia are on the rise.ā€

A group of Florida parents sent their their children's used masks to a laboratory to determine if reports of bacterial growth were true. The analysis revealed that most of the masks had become populated by a variety of bacteria, parasites and fungi. Some were breeding at least eleven dangerous pathogenic bacteria. These unhealthy bugs were being re-breathed into their children's lungs, putting them at risk for a variety of serious diseases. Ordinary washing of the masks was not effective in killing all the pathogens.

Prophylactic masks have their uses. 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 ā€“ a protection far superior to any mask for most diseases. Consult a trusted doctor or other medical practitioner.

Notes and References

  1. A paper presented at the EIS conference in 2023 authored by Jessica A. Penney et al reported a high-than-expected pediatric patients in Clark County, Nevada, with intracranial abscess in 2022. Cases had a "diagnosis of intraparenchymal abscess, subdural abscess or empyema, epidural abscess or empyema, or evidence of intracranial extension on imaging in a patient aged ā‰¤18 years without a previous neurosurgical procedure or head trauma." The median age was twelve years. In the words of Dr. Panda, "A public health advisory by the Southern Nevada Health District reports initially, children would experience common childhood complaints like earaches or sinus infections, accompanied by headaches and fever. However, within a week, it became evident that a more serious condition was developing." They developed a brain abscess requiring brain surgery to drain it and antibiotics to clear up the infection. He goes on to suggest that it is likely due to "the dirty unchanged masks being worn all the time by the children.

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