JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The break in the winter weather feels lovely, but the second you felt the 70-degree temperatures you had to wonder, how long until the pollen starts? Pollen season for us kicks off with tree pollen, and we’ve seen our cars dusted yellow as early as February some years.
What’s vastly different this year compared to years past is widespread facial mask use as we try to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. So it’s fair to wonder, could the masks we are wearing also protect us from pollen and allergies?
Yes and no. First of all, an N95 mask filters out particles that are 0.3 microns and up. Most pine varieties produce pollen particles between 60-85 microns, which would presumably be stopped and filtered out by an N95 mask. The problem would be that most of us are wearing cloth face covers and saving N95 masks, which are in short supply, for medical professionals and front line workers. Also, you would need to be wearing the N95 mask while you’re outside, and most people do not wear masks outside, especially when alone, like in your backyard.
So would our (sometimes homemade) cloth facial coverings help with pollen? This study showed that the answer would depend upon what materials your mask is made of, how dense the fabric is, and if it has multiple layers. More dense cotton was more effective at filtering out tiny particles than standard quilter’s cotton. Multiple layers of fabric were more effective than a single layer. So your cloth face mask could help with pollen, but once again you’d need to be wearing it whenever you are outside.