Despite so many people fighting it, masks are well known to help protect the wearer and the people around them from coronavirus infection. But it turns out they might be more beneficial than we previously thought. A new study done by researches from the National Institutes of Health have collected evidence indicating that wearing a mask will also end up with less severe COVID-19 symptoms in the event of infection.
It seems that humidity is the key to that. Study authors say the humidity generated inside a face mask helps combat respiratory diseases. Whenever anyone wears a mask, it increases the levels of humidity in the air they breathe in. The extra humidity supplied by wearing a mask may explain how mask-wearing can create more manageable COVID-19 symptoms.
Previous studies have revealed that additional hydration in the respiratory system helps improve immune responses.
“We found that face masks strongly increase the humidity in inhaled air and propose that the resulting hydration of the respiratory tract could be responsible for the documented finding that links lower COVID-19 disease severity to wearing a mask,” says lead study author and NIH Distinguished Investigator Adriaan Bax, Ph.D. in a media release. “High levels of humidity have been shown to mitigate severity of the flu, and it may be applicable to severity of COVID-19 through a similar mechanism.”
More humidity helps the lungs in a few different ways. High humidity levels make it harder for viruses to spread in the lungs by facilitating mucociliary clearance (MCC). This is an immune defense response that removes mucus and any harmful particles hiding in that mucus. Extra humidity also causes the immune system to create special virus-fighting proteins called interferons.
Conversely, not enough humidity can lead to less than adequate MCC/interferon responses. Researchers believe this is one of the main reasons people tend to develop respiratory infections during the winter. It might be beneficial to keep wearing masks in the winter even when this pandemic is long past.