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To put it simply: Yes, wearing a face mask can cause symptoms of a sore throat. Whether you will get a sore throat from wearing your mask depends on several factors, most of which you have control over.

When you wear a mask, it changes the moisture level of the air that you are breathing in. The air that you breathe in from beneath the mask may have increased water vapor from your own breath, as well as irritants and pathogens from the mask itself if it has not been cleaned properly.

If you’re breathing like this for several hours at a time, your throat may start to feel dry and scratchy. A 2020 study of 250 healthcare workers in a COVID-19 healthcare facility showed that dry noses and sore throats were among the common side effects of wearing masks for hours per day.

We can emphasize the importance of wearing masks while still acknowledging that wearing a face mask can have side effects. Dry skin and “maskne” are among some of the more common side effects you might notice from wearing a face mask.

Despite possible side effects, wearing a mask can still be an important way to help reduce the transmission of viruses, such as those that cause the common cold or SARS-CoV-2, which is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Read on to learn more about ways to reduce risk for side effects and when to see a doctor about your symptoms.

The type of mask you wear may make a difference in whether you experience a sore throat.

If you’re wearing an N95 respirator or another medical-grade mask, there may be a pocket of “dead air” that is trapped between your face and the air outside the mask. This air can become hot, humid, and uncomfortable to breathe.

In 2012, a study showed that wearing a surgical mask decreases the amount of water that your nose is able to inhale and carry, resulting in nasal dryness, which can also cause a dry, sore throat.

Studies on how fabric masks can increase your risk for sore throat are currently lacking. While an N95 mask may be more effective than a fabric mask at filtering out certain viral pathogens, it’s possible that it may also be more likely to cause a sore throat.

You may notice an increase in mask side effects if you wear your mask for an hour or more at a time. That’s because wearing your mask for an extended amount of time can increase the chances of your mask becoming dirty.

Several studies report that wearing a face mask can increase the amount of carbon dioxide circulating in your blood. You may be breathing in carbon dioxide that you just expelled through your lungs since the mask keeps the air recirculating through your nose.

This can lead to fatigue and disorientation that compounds over the course of several hours. It would make sense that this side effect of mask-wearing could increase other side effects, such as nasal irritation and sore throat, but most of the information we have about this is anecdotal at this time.

Sore throat can be caused by irritants, and irritants can linger and live on masks that have not been cleaned properly. That’s why if your mask is clean, it’s less likely to cause a sore throat.

While it might be a bit inconvenient if you’re used to popping on the mask you keep in your car’s glove compartment every time you run to the store and then putting it back in there when you’re done, this can lead to a buildup of irritants.

There are currently no firm guidelines on how many hours you can wear each type of mask. If you have a disposable or surgical mask, dispose of it after each use. Do not try to use it again. If you’re using an N95 mask, you should dispose of that, too, unless you have the equipment necessary to steam clean it.

Fabric masks should be washed in hot, soapy water and hung up to dry after each daily use. You can also use your washer or dryer if you have one at home. Keep your masks in a clean, dry place (such as a disposable paper bag) when you are not wearing them.

Surface contamination refers to bacteria or contaminants that can get on the surface of your mask. Even if your mask was clean when you left your house, it can easily be exposed to germs from surfaces. Even just touching your face or putting your mask down temporarily, can cause it to become contaminated.

You can develop symptoms of a cold or virus via a mask that’s been exposed to bacteria or a virus, including sore throat. Regularly taking your mask on and off can increase the likelihood of transmitting germs to your mask. This applies whether you’re wearing a fabric, N95, or disposable surgical mask.

There are certain environments that can make developing a sore throat more likely, to begin with, even when you are not wearing a mask, including:

  • being in high altitudes
  • desert climates with dry air
  • locations with high levels of environmental pollution

In addition to a dry or sore throat, wearing a mask can cause other symptoms, too. Common symptoms associated with mask-wearing may include:

  • dry skin
  • acne
  • dry mouth
  • bad breath
  • irritated and inflamed nose or nasal passages
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • increased heart rate
  • difficulty concentrating

If you have a persistent sore throat, it’s possible that it’s a temporary side effect from wearing your mask. But it’s also possible that you picked up a bacterial or viral infection.

You should seek medical attention right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher
  • difficulty breathing
  • blue skin or blue lips
  • a deep cough that does not subside
  • confusion, drowsiness, or loss of consciousness

You should also see a doctor if your sore throat persists for several days, gets worse, or if you are concerned in general.

To help determine the cause of your sore throat, a doctor may:

  • ask questions about your health history, recent travel, and other symptoms you may be having
  • check to see if you have an elevated temperature
  • perform a swab test for flu, strep, or COVID-19

A sore throat without a cough is more likely to be a symptom of the common cold than a symptom of COVID-19. But you still may want to get tested for COVID-19 if you have a sore throat and:

  • have been around someone with a known or suspected case of COVID-19
  • are around or planning to be around someone at increased risk for developing severe symptoms, such as people living with diabetes or high blood pressure
  • are around or planning to be around people who are less likely to have been vaccinated, such as young children
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There are things that you can do to reduce your risk for developing a sore throat or other symptoms while wearing a mask.

  • If you’re using a reusable fabric mask, make sure that it’s clean every time you wear it.
  • If you’re using a disposable N95 or surgical mask, throw it away after use.
  • Put your mask on and keep it on for the duration of outings where a mask is recommended. Do not constantly take your mask on and off or move it to your chin while you have conversations.
  • Keep your mask in a sanitary, single-use container (such as a plastic bag) until you’re ready to wear it. If you do have to take your mask off, return it to that container (instead of putting it facedown in a public place, for example) and wash or sanitize your hands before you put it back on.
  • Avoid masks made of materials that are hard to breathe through, such as plastic or leather.

What we currently know about the side effects of face masks does not outweigh the public health benefit of wearing one in recommended settings. Current CDC guidance recommends that people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 continue to wear masks whenever they are indoors or when in a crowded setting outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.

Sore throat can be a side effect of wearing a mask. Following guidelines for wearing, washing, and disposing of your mask properly may help reduce your risk for side effects from wearing face masks.