If you’re just running into the grocery store, wearing a cloth face mask for a few minutes isn’t a huge inconvenience for most people. But if you work outside or go to work or school in a building that isn’t air conditioned, adding a mask to the equation can crank up the discomfort level during the sweltering summer months.
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“Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth in hot weather is certainly uncomfortable, but it’s quite necessary if you’re going to be around other people outside of your household,” explains internal medicine physician Janet Morgan, MD.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face masks when you’re in public places — especially when it’s hard to stay 6 feet away from other people. (However, if you have a medical condition that causes trouble breathing or if you aren’t able to remove a mask without help, it’s not recommended that you wear one.)
Wearing a cloth mask when it’s hot can feel stuffy and humid, but for most people it’s generally not dangerous to your health, Dr. Morgan says. However, being in very hot temperatures for an extended period of time — mask or not — can put you at risk for heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion, dehydration or, in extreme situations, heat stroke. (If you’re prone to heat exhaustion, check with your provider first.)
If possible, avoid long periods of direct sun exposure if you’re outdoors, and avoid heavy exertion. If at any point you feel dizzy, nauseous, lightheaded, confused, faint or breathless, it’s time to get out of the heat.
Stay cool in your mask
To make wearing a mask more comfortable when it’s hot, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose your mask wisely: The CDC recommends using multiple layers of fabric for homemade masks, to better contain droplets that come out of your nose and mouth when you cough, sneeze and talk. Tightly woven cotton fabric is a good choice, as it’s breathable and soft. If you’re working directly in the sun, opt for a light-colored mask, as darker colored ones will absorb more heat.
- Carry a spare (or two): If your mask gets sweaty, swap it out for a clean one. Wetness decreases the protection of the mask and can make it even more uncomfortable, Dr. Morgan says. “We advise people to carry a spare mask at all times.”
- Don’t forget to drink water: If your mouth is covered by a mask, you might be less likely to take sips of water throughout the day. But when it’s hot and you’re sweating, you actually need more water than normal. Stay hydrated by taking frequent sips of water.
- Take breaks: If it would feel good to take off your mask for a few minutes, make sure you step away from others first.
- Keep the rest of your body cool, too: The CDC recommends choosing lightweight, loose-fitting clothes in hot weather.
Don’t forget to wash your masks after each use, since some germs thrive in warm, damp conditions like those created by a sweaty mask.
The CDC recommends washing your masks along with your regular laundry using detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting, or by hand with a bleach solution. Dry them completely in your dryer or by laying them flat, preferably in direct sunlight.