Keeping Your Nose Clean

Covering your mouth and nose really does help stop the spread of COVID-19 and, we now know, protects ourselves most of all.

Actor and comedian Steve Martin, playing Cyrano de Bergerac, had the right take on the pandemic: ‘It’s not the size of the nose that matters, it’s what’s inside that counts’ ! Our noses are especially efficient at spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which means that keeping them covered in public will reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Noses and COVID-19

Respiratory droplets are formed and propelled when talking, singing, laughing, and coughing, but also simply by breathing. Most of us breathe mainly through our noses, which smell, warm and humidify air, and filter out microbes and debris from the air. But, unfortunately, they also provide a good landing place for the coronavirus, which invades cells in the nose more than the mouth and throat. When the SARS-CoV-2 virus invades our nose, it migrates to the lungs to cause COVID-19. However, some virus remains in our nose, and when we exhale, we release it into the air. 

When we’re sitting quietly, reading, or working or even playing on our mobile phones, most of us keep our mouths closed and breathe through our noses. If we breathe through our noses. But without a mask, it’s double trouble, because the virus can enter and infect you, and you can then spread the virus to others, even when you don’t feel sick. 

Covering our noses is key to avoiding catching and spreading COVID-19. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that cloth and surgical masks protect the wearers, as well as others, from becoming severely ill by reducing the dose of virus they inhale. 

Masks Are Uncomfortable

It’s not fun wearing a mask – especially in the summer. They’re not only uncomfortable, but they can be downright irritating. It’s annoying to carry a mask with us all the time, it gets hot under the mask, can cause rashes and acne, it fogs up glasses, makes it difficult to chat, and sometimes, it feels oppressive and smothering. 

The discomfort of wearing a mask makes it tempting to remove it – against the rules of course in places like grocery stores and public transportation. Some people wear their masks under their chins, which, sadly, is no better than no mask at all, and many others slip the mask below their noses thinking that they can quickly move it up to avoid getting caught and fined, especially on public transportation. But this is far more serious than that: This is not about ‘not getting fined’, it’s about protecting ourselves and others, defeating COVID-19, and getting back to normal life.

Where and How to Wear a Mask

In Austria, we must wear masks in grocery stores and public transport. But ideally, you should also consider wearing masks in places where the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission is high, such as in poorly ventilated indoor areas, especially with dense person-to-person contact. 

But you must wear it correctly, by covering your nose and mouth. Check out my article in April for a refresher: Why Face Masks Matter – And How to Wear Them’  

When Others Aren’t Doing It Right 

When you’re wearing a mask properly despite being uncomfortable, it’s frustrating to see others who are not. But we can – and should – ask them as kindly as possible to wear them properly.  For those not wearing them, we can offer them the extra mask we just happen to have in our bag. We need to reinforce and remind people that their actions have an impact.

Masks will help stop this pandemic. A little discomfort is a small price to pay. 

Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

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