A concern heard time and time again throughout the pandemic, and we're here to set the record straight:
No, there is no evidence that mask use weakens the immune system. In fact, a mask acts as a physical barrier that can help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain viruses or bacteria, lowering the chance of infection for both you and those around you, and effectively protecting your immunity, not weakening it.
However, the thinking rooted behind these theories isn't entirely false, and could teach us something about the human body, and our immune system!
For the most part, the fears around masks diminishing our ability to fight off infection and other viruses usually surface from the feature our immune response boasts called, “immunological memory”.
For the average person, this concept is understood as our immune system getting stronger through exposure to illness in the first place, whereby it learns from it each time and “practices” defending itself.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that works tirelessly to defend the body against harmful pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, and indeed one fascinating aspect of the immune system is its ability to develop a form of "muscle memory" through a process known as immunological memory.
Innate and Adaptive Immunity
The immune system consists of innate and adaptive components: Innate immunity provides the first line of defense and offers immediate, nonspecific protection against a wide range of pathogens, whereas adaptive immunity is tailored to specific pathogens and has the remarkable ability to "remember" pathogens it has encountered before, which can mount a quicker and stronger response upon re-exposure.
However, while experiencing an illness can provide the immune system with an opportunity to learn and develop a response, it is not necessary to intentionally get sick for your body to know how to fight a particular sickness.
Your Immune System
The immune system has remarkable capabilities to recognize and respond to various pathogens, even without prior exposure to them. This is also the case when the illness isn't more than the common cold, but rather a respiratory infection that could cause serious health issues.
What's more, medical practitioners recommend both wearing masks and making sure you're up to date with vaccinations. In fact, immunological memory is the basis for the effectiveness of vaccines!
Vaccines contain weakened or inactivated forms of pathogens or their components, which stimulate the immune system to produce memory cells without causing the actual disease. This way, if you encounter the actual pathogen later, your immune system can mount a swift and robust response to fight infection, improving the likelihood of preventing the development of severe illnesses.
Therefore, wearing a mask, alongside being up to date with your vaccinations, is an effective way to keep your immunity strong without having to get yourself or others around you sick.
The Hygiene Hypothesis
Another hypothesis that some people use to argue about the effectiveness of masks is the “hygiene hypothesis”.
This is a theory introduced in the 1980s that suggests that early exposure to germs and specific infections during childhood aids in the development of the immune system. Essentially, the immune system during childhood begins to teach itself not to overreact through exposure to certain germs, thereby preventing excessive responses.
However, this theory is true only partly in the case of children, given that the environment isn't the only thing that has a strong influence on their immune system. In addition, Doctors recommend keeping your children safe by wearing a mask and through proper hygiene in their home environment, but without going overboard with obsessive cleaning.
WellBefore and You
Let's shout it out one more time: mask wearing is important to stay safe and protected! By wearing a mask, both the wearer and those around them are provided with an added layer of protection, reducing the risk of infection.
Wearing a mask, such as the infamous N95 or KN95, effectively traps respiratory droplets emitted by the person wearing the mask, thereby preventing the transmission of potentially harmful particles to others. This is particularly significant for individuals who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, as they can unknowingly transmit viruses around.
However, it is majorly important to remember that while face masks are beneficial, they should be used in conjunction with other preventive measures like proper hygiene, being mindful of social distancing, and receiving vaccinations where available! Together, these strategies form a comprehensive approach to public health and help protect individuals and communities and keep your immune system strong.
If you happen to be looking for the best face masks, WellBefore has got you covered! We carry high-quality face masks suited for every age, including N95 masks and KN95 masks for adults, as well as adjustable masks for kids in different sizes and colors!