July 26, 2021 -- The increased use of masks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by a “dramatic increase in face mask–related injuries” reported to a national surveillance system.

How dramatic? The number of mask-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments averaged about 200 per year from 2016 to 2019. In 2020, that figure soared to 4,976 – an increase of almost 2,400%, Gerald McGwin Jr., PhD, and associates said in a research letter published in the Journal to the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the use of respiratory protection equipment was largely limited to healthcare and industrial settings. As [face mask] use by the general population increased, so too have reports of dermatologic reactions,” said Dr. McGwin and associates of the department of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dermatitis was the most common mask-related injury treated last year, affecting 28.3% of those presenting to EDs, followed by lacerations at 10.1%. Injuries were more common in women than men, but White and Black patients “were equally represented,” they noted, based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which includes about 100 hospitals and EDs.

Most injuries were caused by rashes/allergic reactions (38%) from prolonged use, poorly fitting masks (19%), and obscured vision (14%).

“There was a small (5%) but meaningful number of injuries, all among children, attributable to consuming pieces of a mask or inserting dismantled pieces of a mask into body orifices,” the investigators said.

Guidance from the CDC is available “to aid in the choice and proper fit of face masks,” they wrote. “Increased awareness of these resources [could] minimize the future occurrence of mask-related injuries.”

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