COVID-19: Advice for people who have difficulties wearing a face mask

Last updated: 13 September 2022

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Apply for a face mask exemption pass

We know face masks are unsuitable for some people.

If you have a physical illness, a mental illness, a condition or a disability that means you can’t wear a face mask, sometimes or all of the time, you can apply for an exemption pass.

We understand that these categories may not specifically explain your current situation (e.g., if you have experienced past trauma as the victim of a violent crime and so cannot wear a face covering). Choose the one that best reflects your situation when you make your declaration.

When you apply you are making a legal declaration that at least one of these: physical illness, a mental illness, a condition or a disability applies to you.

How to apply

You can apply on behalf of someone else at any of the above options.

Get assistance applying or print your pass at a pharmacy. To find a participating pharmacy near you visit Healthpoint and choose ‘My COVID Documents – get in person’.

Call 0800 11 12 13 where they will let you know your closest participating pharmacy.

Apply for someone else

  • Call 0800 11 12 13, have their date of birth and NHI number with you

Getting your Face Mask Exemption Pass

Voiceover: Requesting a Face Mask Exemption Pass is easy and can be done in 3 quick ways.

On screen:

  • My Covid Record
  • Call 0800 11 12 13 or text 8988
  • Pharmacy

Voiceover:

You can request a pass by logging into My Covid Record or call 0800 11 12 13, or text 8988. Alternatively, visit a participating pharmacy.  

This pass has legal standing and includes your name to make it easier to communicate your exemption to others.

Applying for a pass through My Covid Record

Simply log in to My Covid Record and under 'I want to', select 'Request a COVID-19 face mask exemption pass'.

Select your reason(s), and continue to check the email it will be sent to.

Your pass will then be emailed to you as a PDF that you can print and keep on you.

If you call 0800 11 12 13, have your name, NHI, and contact details on you. The call centre can email or post your pass to you.

Alternatively, visit a participating pharmacy to apply for your card with their help or to have your card printed out. Have your name, NHI, and contact details on you.

Make sure to keep your pass on you in case you are asked to present it.

When to use your face mask exemption pass

It's important to be mindful of why business owners or employees may approach you to wear a face mask. They will likely be doing so out of an interest in making other customers feel safe, or because their business requires it. You can then show them your pass.

While it is inappropriate for a business owner or employee to enquire about the nature of a person’s disability or condition, it is reasonable for them to ask whether a person has an exemption from face mask requirements.

If a business owner or employee refuses you entry for not wearing a mask, this may be discrimination on the ground of disability, and you could make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. People with a mask exemption should be granted access to the same goods and services as people who can wear a mask.

Some businesses or services, such as GP practices may require people who aren’t wearing masks to access their business or service via a different entry process or location.

If you think a pass has been obtained fraudulently, or is being used fraudulently, you can report it via the Unite Against COVID-19 website for referral to enforcement agencies as appropriate. The penalty for conviction of fraudulent use is up to 6 months imprisonment or a fine of up to $12,000.

Advice for communication card holders

A Communication Card was available to apply for until 30 May 2022 and remains valid. It was developed to show to transport operators, retailers and service providers, to explain the holder couldn’t wear a face mask. Following a change to the legislation, a face mask exemption pass is now available. The pass provides conclusive evidence that the holder is exempt under law from wearing a face mask. Because the pass is recognised in law, people with a communication card are encouraged to apply for a face mask exemption pass.

Advice on wearing a face mask comfortably

People who aren’t eligible for a face mask exemption pass may find the following advice useful. It outlines common scenarios where people may find mask wearing difficult. The advice provided is intended to help people wear a mask when they are required to.

Please select any of the following that apply to you. Each option provides further advice to help you wear a mask more comfortably.

I have asthma, and this makes wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

The respiratory patients who are most at risk from severe health impacts from COVID-19 are those with uncontrolled or pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as chronic lung disease, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, and people who have severe asthma which requires multiple medications and medical care.

For people with very mild or well-controlled asthma, wearing a face mask should not be an issue.

For those who have trouble breathing, severe or poorly-controlled asthma with frequent flare-ups, or for those with COPD who are coughing and experiencing significant breathlessness, then it is possible that wearing a face mask could cause discomfort, or make it harder to breathe.

People with respiratory conditions can consider:

  • Only wearing a face mask for short periods of time, for example if you have to travel to see a health professional or access an essential service.
  • Avoiding travel on public transport, or any situation where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and you need to wear a mask or face mask.
  • Using a face mask or face mask that is made of a moisture-wicking and breathable fabric (eg. 100% cotton),which may make the face mask more comfortable.

A face mask must cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply. 

Using a silicone face mask bracket that holds the mask away from your mouth and nose may also be helpful.

I have a skin irritation, eczema, or sensitive skin and this makes wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

Ways to prevent face masks from irritating the skin or causing facial eczema:

  • Cleanse your face with a gentle wash, pat dry the skin and then add moisturiser before and after putting on a face mask.
  • Don’t use makeup in areas covered by the face mask. Makeup on skin covered by a face mask can clog your pores and cause flare-ups, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
  • Wear a cloth mask made of three layers of fabric. The face mask should be easy to wash and breathable. If cotton is not available, any soft, lightweight fabric should do. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester or rayon are more likely to irritate your skin.
  • Make sure it’s a well-fitting face mask. It should not be so tight that it presses against your skin. It should not be so loose that it moves around and rubs against your skin. Try out different face masks to find one that is best for you.
  • Wash your face mask often.
  • Take a break from wearing a face mask when you can so you can let your skin breathe. Remove your face mask outdoors or in a place where you can maintain a two-metre distance from others.

A face mask must cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply. 

I wear hearing aids, and these make wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

There are a number of ways to manage wearing a face mask for people who use hearing aids.

Consider a different mask style

It may be easier to use a mask that secures behind the head, either with elastic or by tying strings. This will assist by taking the pressure away from the ears and reduce the risk of losing the hearing aid when removing the mask.

Get your hair out of the way

When putting on or taking off a mask, hair can get in the way of the ears and hearing aids. If your hair is long, try pulling it back into a bun or ponytail. This will increase your awareness of the hearing aid and make it easier to double check it is placed correctly when slipping a mask’s elastics on or off.

Secure your devices with a security clip

For added confidence while out and about, a hearing aid retention cord and clip might be right for you. These accessories attach your hearing devices to the collar of your shirt with a clip, so you don’t have to worry about losing or damaging your hearing aids.

Take care when removing the mask

When removing a face mask, remember to make sure your hearing aids are on properly and securely. We recommend holding the hearing aid in place with one hand, while removing the elastics of the mask with the other.

A face maskmust cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply.

I get migraines, and these make wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

Some people develop compression headaches from the tight bands that secure some face masks to their heads, while others may develop migraines because they are not keeping well-hydrated or are missing meals while wearing their face mask.

If you are susceptible to migraine attacks, we suggest that you limit the consecutive hours you wear your face mask and remember to keep well-hydrated, and to not skip meals.

Consider a different style of face mask

It may be easier to use a face mask that secures behind the head, either with elastic or by tying strings. This will assist by taking the pressure away from the ears.

A face mask must cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply.

I have glasses, dry eyes or contact lenses and these make wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

There are a range of ways to prevent glasses from fogging up including:

  • Use soap and water to clean your glasses, then dry them with a microfibre cloth. This reduces surface tension and prevents the fog sticking to the lenses.
  • Apply a thin layer of shaving cream to the inside of your glasses, then gently wipe it off. The residual shaving cream will prevent the lenses from misting up.  
  • Use a de-misting spray that dries clear; you can buy this from most optometrists.
  • Ensure that the nose bridge at the top of surgical masks is moulded to your face to reduce any gaps between the face mask and your face.
  • If you have made your own cloth mask, twist ties or pipe clears can be used to mould the nose bridge of your mask in a similar way to surgical masks.
  • Use tape across the top edge of the mask along your skin to close the gap or fold a slightly damp tissue on the top edge of your mask.

There are also tips to prevent dry eyes while wearing a face mask:

  • Ensure your face mask fits well, and consider taping the top edge of the face mask if you have to wear it for a long time.
  • Use eye drops to help alleviate dry feeling eyes.
  • Limit time in air-conditioned environments where possible, and take regular breaks from using digital devices.

Using a silicone face mask bracket that holds the mask away from your mouth and nose may also be helpful.

I get hay fever, and this makes wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

Face masks can benefit people who suffer from hay fever by filtering out pollen. If you experience outdoor allergies, keep your face mask clean and regularly washed.

It’s common to drink less when wearing a face mask and this can exacerbate sinus issues, so make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day.

If you suffer from allergies, you may be reacting to the material the face mask is made of, or the washing powder used to wash a reusable face mask. Trying different types of face mask may help, as well as washing them in dermatologically-tested face wash, instead of regular detergent.

I have difficulty breathing, and this makes wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

It is common for people to feel like they are unable to breathe properly when wearing a face mask, however wearing a face mask doesn't affect the ability for us to get air into our lungs.

To combat the feelings of breathlessness, practice wearing your face mask and try structured breathing exercises such as ‘box breathing’ or ‘belly breathing.’ This will help refocus your attention to concentrate on using your abdominal muscles rather than your throat and upper chest muscles, and help you to get used to the feeling of wearing a face mask.

A face covering must cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply.

Using a silicone face mask bracket that holds the mask away from your mouth and nose helpful.

I get dizziness, headaches, nausea or tiredness, and these make wearing a face mask difficult

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

Wearing a face mask should not cause dizziness, light-headedness, and/or headaches. It’s common to drink less when wearing a mask and this can exacerbate dizziness and headaches, so make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day.

Practising mindful breathing while wearing a mask can help you learn to breathe normally while wearing a face mask. In the first instance you might also like to try using a silicone face mask bracket that holds the mask away from your mouth and nose - this way the sensation of having something right on your face lessens, which helps you to feel like you can breathe normally.

Try breathing exercises while wearing a face mask at home, so that breathing normally while wearing a face mask becomes a habit.

Wearing a face mask gives me a runny nose

In general, you should wear a face mask whenever you can. The COVID-19 virus is transmissible by droplets, so face masks are a way we can protect ourselves and each other.

You may be reacting to the material your face mask is made of, or the washing powder used to wash a reusable face mask. Trying different types of face masks may help, as well as washing them in dermatologically-tested face wash instead of regular detergent.

A face covering must cover your nose and mouth and be secured to your head by ear loops or a head loop. You can also make a face mask easily and cheaply.

My child cannot wear a face mask at school

Where parents have concerns about face masks, they should be encouraged to discuss this in the first instance with their school.

You may like to consider identifying certain staff who are responsible for managing questions around face masks in your school. This could help ensure that conversations are held in an appropriate way by staff who understand the potential complexities, and who have the school’s authority to make decisions and apply them consistently.

You will know that there are many ways in which schools protect their students from COVID-19, including by asking people who are unwell to stay away, ensuring staff and volunteers are vaccinated, providing good ventilation, and by encouraging students and staff in general to wear face masks, and to maintain good hygiene.

Other hygiene and safe practices

If wearing a face mask is unsuitable for you, it’s especially important that you are vigilant in your other hygiene and safety practices when in public.

Stay home if you’re sick. When out and about keep your distance from other people, wash your hands often, and sneeze and cough into your elbow.

Further information

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