Children's Masks should be Selected and Handled with Care.!

As children gradually return to face-to-face lessons, the masks have become a new addition to the school outfit. With Covid19 vaccinations pending for children ages 12 to 18 and older, their only lines of defense are face masks, hand disinfection, and physical distancing. Masks are vital in this process as they can help protect them from contracting the virus or spreading the virus to other people.

The WHO (World Health Organization) says children under the age of five need not necessarily wear masks, since they are fidgety at that age and are unlikely to be able to wear them correct for extended periods of time or discard them in a safe manner. "However, there are exceptions," says Dr Asmita Mahajan, consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at S.L. Raheja Hospital, Mahim (a Fortis associate hospital). "If the child is sick or in contact with someone who is unwell, they should wear a mask under adult supervision."

Wearing a mask does not cause any harm or affect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood as most are designed to be breathable. This brings us to a key question-how to choose the right mask for children. "While choosing a mask for kids, one should look for comfort, fit and filtration, in that order, because if the mask is not comfortable, the child will not wear it [for extended periods of time]," says Dr Mahajan. "The mask should be the correct size to cover the nose, mouth, and chin and fit comfortably." It's ideal if the ear loops are adjustable to ensure better fit and comfort.

Masks with inherent anti-microbial properties can help in real-time deactivation of microorganisms, enabling multiple uses and reducing secondary infections. Since cloth masks come in different materials and deigns, it's hard to make generalisations about how effective they are. According to Amit Jain, director, Keeo Life, which manufactures masks for children, "The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) found that a three-layer knitted cotton mask blocked 26.5 per cent of particles and a two-layer nylon mask with a filter insert and a metal nose bridge blocked 79 per cent of viruses only."

What's important is that the mask should fit perfectly around the face so that leakage is prevented. "Easy breathability should be the next principle for selecting masks for children," says Jain. "They won't wear it for long if they find it suffocating. The elastic should be of higher quality so that it doesn't put heavy load on ears."

Children in good health can wear a fabric mask according to Covid-19 guidelines. But the best option is to 'double mask'-to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask. Says Dr Mahajan, "The surgical mask gives better filtration and the cloth mask helps to hold the edges of the surgical one better to the child's face." This ensures there are no gaps that might allow infected air to pass through. As per CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric is recommended.

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