Posted on Apr 01, 2020, 7 p.m.
We all do it, we touch our faces continuously throughout the day whether it be an itchy nose, a piece of hair on your face, tired eyes, or wiping your mouth with the back of your hands there are dozens of ways we do it without a second thought about touching our face frequently. .
But all that face touching can significantly increase risk of infection with bacteria or viruses just waiting for the opportunity to enter the body via the mouth, eyes, nose, and ears; and all it takes is a simple touch from a finger that is carrying the nasty invader.
According to the CDC this recent outbreak is transmitted from person to person like many other respiratory infections which includes by respiratory droplets produced from an infected person that are inhaled by others and by touching a contaminated surface then using that hand to touch your person.
It is fairly easy to avoid being around a person who is visibly sick, but people often don’t display symptoms with this virus. Meaning it may be best to take precautions against airborne viruses by using a mask, and avoiding touching your person after touching surfaces that may be contaminated but you have no way to know they are.
Studies show that people touch their face on average 16-23 times per hour. These same studies show that almost half of these touches involved the mouth, nose, or eyes which are the preferred and easiest pathways for invading bacteria and viruses to enter the body. It is not just everyday people either, even medical professionals who should know better were shown to touch their faces on average 19 times in 2 hours while being inconsistent about hand hygiene.
“When actively working, people will often shake their foot, play with their hair, or in these instances, touch their faces. It certainly helps to know when you are most vulnerable to such activities and try to stay aware, during the meeting, or phone call, or while engrossed in work,” said Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, in Menlo Park, California, in a Healthline interview.
Hand hygiene is an important precaution, washing our hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water helps reduce the risk of passing on anything to our faces that we may have picked up on our hands.
“A new ring, jewelry, or even a rubber band around the wrist can serve as a reminder to increase awareness of the hands, and ideally to remember to not touch your face,” said Dimitriu. “Something needs to be different, however, to encourage ‘different’ and nonautomatic behavior.”
“Be mindful about your intention to keep your hands away from your face. Just a brief pause can help you be more aware of what you’re doing with your hands,” says Zachary Sikora, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital in Huntley, Illinois.
“Keep your hands busy. If you’re at home watching TV, try folding laundry, sort through mail, or hold something in your hands,” Sikora explained, adding that even a tissue will do, as long as it reminds you to keep your hands away from your face.
Using post it notes where they are visible may help you to remember to keep your hands away from your face. Using scented soap, lotion or sanitizer may also help remind you as the smell will draw your attention to your hands. Try keeping your hands folded when not in use, it will draw your attention to them as you unlace your fingers. Habitual touchers should consider wearing gloves when they leave their homes, this will serve as an effective reminder.
“You can wear gloves when you’re out in public and most likely to be exposed by touching surfaces that have the virus,” said Sikora. “Then remove them when you get to your destination. It may be unusual, but wearing gloves at home can also help you break the habit of touching your face.”
Your mucus membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth are the easiest pathways for bacteria and viruses to enter the body, all it takes is brushing one of these areas after your hands have come into contact with a contaminated surface.
No matter how frequently you wash your hands it may not be enough to prevent infection. The best thing to do is to avoid touching your face as much as possible. The above tips may help to raise your awareness of where your hands are, and help you to break the face touching habit.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement