Mask-wearing days are over in most situations, but in many areas where COVID-19 transmission is still substantial, masks are still needed for patient care areas in the hospital and clinics. This is the situation in our hospital and clinics. Given that this respiratory season is going to be a ‘doozy’, with the addition of flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and COVID-19, we anticipate this will continue for now.
Adverse effects can result from wearing masks for a long period of time, especially with the type of work and hours of work done by direct patient care providers. Our Integrative Medicine team at University Health surveyed health care workers for symptoms from wearing masks. Most workers (89%) experienced some effects from mask wearing for long periods of time. These included: fatigue, anxiety, pain, nausea, indigestion, and decrease in mood or mental focus. The pain was usually due to headache or discomfort from wearing the mask.
Knowing that essential oils can have a beneficial affect on mood and other complaints, we wondered if a drop of essential oil in a mask would mitigate some of these effects. We placed an exact small amount of essential oil (using a laboratory pipette with sterile pipette tips for accuracy and sanitation) on the inner edge of the surgical masks. Mask testing showed that the presence of the essential oil did not affect mask filtration.
What we found was that workers experienced a decrease in severity fatigue, anxiety, pain, nausea, indigestion, and decrease in mood. Mental focus was not affected. Fatigue, anxiety, and pain were the complaints with the largest decrease. There were many positive comments from our workers.
Now when we make our Integrative Medicine rounds on hospital patients, we also provide essential oils to masks of staff that request it. Some workers are using their own essential oils for this effect. This intervention also spread education about aromatherapy to be used for patients in the form of nasal inhalers.
So, another win for essential oils and in this case for health care workers as well. Here is a link to the article in Holistic Nursing Practice.