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WHY DOCTORS ARE ADVISING YOU NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE & TIPS TO STOP

Mya Care Guest Blogger 18 Mar 2020
WHY DOCTORS ARE ADVISING YOU NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE & TIPS TO STOP

Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments, and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.

What is the deal with all the warnings from healthcare professionals about face touching?

The new coronavirus COVID-19 has certainly aroused a lot of mass panic through global media as the virus continues to spread to other nations and statistics are on the rise. As a preventative measure, health officials and doctors have been urgently warning everyone not to touch their faces and to keep their hands as clean as possible at all times. Not only is this good advice for reducing the risk of contracting the coronavirus, but for minimizing the risk of contracting any kind of opportunistic infection.

It's ironic how something seemingly so simple can actually prove rather difficult! For most of us, touching our faces is something that happens naturally without needing to think at all about it. In an amusing attempt to live up to the current warnings, people have become rather inventive about just how difficult it is to stop touching their faces, with new memes being shared online every day.

In spite of the difficulty, not touching our faces and keeping as hygienic as possible is crucial to prevent the spread of coronavirus alongside many other infections. However, this precaution is more a matter of common sense rather than a matter of fear and urgency.

In an attempt to address some public confusion and anxiety on the matter, let's take a quick look at the history of medical hygiene and dissect why it works as a preventative measure as well as what you can do to help yourself to stop!

A Brief Look Into the History of Germ Theory

The idea that many diseases are caused by unseen particles is not a new one and stems back as early as 100 BC. Through the course of history there have been several breakthroughs until it was eventually popularized in the 1800s by Louis Pasteur.

Just before germ theory became the mainstay of medicine, a few physicians in the 18th century had realized that childbirth mortalities were dramatically decreased when either the doctor or midwife washed their hands. One such contribution of specific importance was a scientific work written by Dr Alexander Gordon, published in 1795, from which the below extract was taken:

" The same means ought to be practised for preventing the infection of the puerperal fever. The patient’s apparel and bedclothes ought either to be burnt or thoroughly purified; and the nurses and physicians who have attended patients affected with the puerperal fever, ought carefully to wash themselves and to get their apparel properly fumigated before it be put on again. "

By the end of the 19th century, germ theory had blown the lid open on medicine and the way disease ought to be tackled. Sterilization became an important addition to all medical procedures and the foundation from which the idea of not touching our faces and washing our hands became commonplace.

What Happens When You Touch Your Face & Why is it so Important?

While everything from scratching an itch to applying makeup has now seemingly contracted an element of danger to it, the truth is that this danger has always been available for us to worry about. Viruses, bacteria and fungi can all (and do) live on surfaces for varying lengths of time and are able to promote infection in those who are susceptible.

When we touch our faces (especially on the nose, mouth, ears and eyes), we are introducing all sorts of micro-organisms onto our skin and into our bodies via our pores and mucous membranes.

The immune system typically works hard at keeping millions of these organisms at bay every single day, but when the immune is not strong or takes a dip, an infection can dominate and wage war with our biology. Something as contagious as the coronavirus has already proven to be expert at dodging the constant patrol of our immune systems and therefore places those with low or compromised immunity at a higher risk.

However, this is not a full picture of how it works at a micro level - not by a long shot.

Placing the Microbiome into a Face-to-Hand Context

Alongside the discovery of pathogens in medicine, scientists found an astonishing number of either good or neutral bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms growing in the trillions everywhere and on everything. The dust floating through the air, the oceans and rivers, plants, soil and the bodies of all organisms are alive with organismal life. Collectively, this was to be known as the microbiome of the planet.

Our skin also has a microbiome that is usually teeming with a collection of very friendly bacteria that form part of our body's defenses. When our hands come into contact with objects on a day to day basis, they pick up bacteria and other organisms from everything we touch and this often ends up inevitably on our faces when we touch them.

Mostly the problem is with foreign organisms that are not native to our home environment as well as the state of our immune systems. When we go out into public places, we encounter a far larger spectrum of organisms, both good and bad. The risk is far more increased of contracting an infection if you introduce a larger number of pathogens into your microbiome to disturb the balance of good bacteria.

Furthermore, the state of our immune systems are at their best when they are not overburdened with toxins, infections and stress, and when we consume plenty of nutrition to ensure it does not deplete of resources.

3 Reasons to Stop Touching Your Face Other Than Coronavirus Prevention

Doctors have been telling their patients not to touch their faces and to keep their hands clean at all times for a much longer time than the new COVID-19 has been around.

If this is news to you, then let us give you three extra reasons why you might want to consider changing your habits regardless of whether we have a flu outbreak or not.

1. Longevity

You may be wondering if your life depends on not touching your face at the rate this warning is being spammed on media. Ironically, it just might!

Turns out that the number of infections we have in our lifetimes have an impact on our immunity in the long run and that affects our lifespan. Every time we get sick or experience stress, it causes heightened levels of inflammation which is believed to be a large part of the aging process.

As we age, the thymus gland (responsible for producing mature immune cells) withers in response to this inflammation and oxidative stress, eventually giving out and causing the body to become susceptible to many organisms. This is one of the reasons why the elderly population are at a higher risk than other age groups.

There is proof that basic hygiene - which includes not touching our faces and washing our hands - has increased our average lifespan over the last 250 years. Where our ancestors lived on average to the ages of 35-40, we now live for double the time.

2. Keeping Your Eyes, Ears and Lungs in Better Shape

Seeing as the eyes, ears, nose and mouth are major points of contact when we touch our faces, it's not surprising that minimizing contact will reduce our risk of infecting those areas. As mentioned above, inflammation and progressive damage to the body over time is believed to be part of the aging process.

Certain infections are known to cause inflammation and damage to the eye, ear or lungs (through the nose and mouth) which can contribute to the aging process in the long run and potentially contribute to decreasing the functionality of those areas of the body. For example, research has reflected that some childhood ear infections are associated with hearing impairment amongst adults later on in life and that reducing the incidence of infection early on decreases the risk.

If you want to keep your eyes, ears and lungs in good shape, preventing infections through not touching the face too often and washing your hands should then be considered part of your hygiene routine!

3. Maintaining Clearer Skin

You may not have realized that refraining from touching your face has extra perks in regards to your complexion. This is due to the fact that one of the main ways that people contract acne is through touching their faces. Not only do we introduce tons of organisms into our pores that way from our hands, but we also help to lodge particles of dirt and other impurities into them.

In this way, infections and outbreaks are far more likely to occur on the surface of the skin as the immune contains the foreign activity and attempts to expel any impurities.

4 Tips to Stop Touching Your Face So Much

Face touching is an unconscious habit that we all have.

Research has shown that people can touch their faces anywhere between 3.6 and 23 times per hour. If you extrapolate that out to the global population, that's a nearly unfathomable amount of face touching!

Here are four tips to help you to stop touching your face:

1. Know Your Triggers

Many people touch their faces unconsciously for any number of reasons. Some people use face touching as a mode of expression while others do it when they're anxious to relieve tension. If you know why you naturally gravitate toward touching your face, you can make a lot of progress toward keeping the habit under control through being aware of what you are doing and being more conscious about it.

For example, if you bite your nails every time you get stressed, then perhaps you should look at managing your stress levels and place attention onto caring for your nails to stop the habit.

The hardest unconscious habit is probably going to be related to not scratching an itch. If you get itchy, try to remind yourself to wash your hands before scratching it.

2. Keep Your Hands Busy

If your hands are busy, you are far more likely to be focused on them and far less likely to use them to touch your face. Another great thing about keeping our hands busy is that many activities that involve the hands tend to keep us calm.

Examples include making art, writing, playing a musical instrument, knitting, woodwork, and other hand-oriented crafts. These activities are rewarding and develop our talents.

If you find yourself in a situation where you don't have access to something that can keep your hands busy, try to place them in a comfortable spot out of the way.

3. Wear Gloves or a Face Mask in Public Places

To minimize exposure to public surfaces, it may be a good idea to cover your face with a scarf or face mask, to wear a set of gloves or both (depending on how many cases are in your area). Not only does this help prevention but it also brings your awareness to either your hands or your face, improving your chances of being mindful about it.

Tissues can also be a handy accessory to have on hand in case you need to sneeze but are not able to wash your hands beforehand.

4. Emphasize Cleanliness in your Home

Make your home a clean and safe place, free of potentially infected media. This means ensuring that everything is washed regularly and kept sterile.

Pay extra attention to exit and entry points in your home, where you place your gloves, facemask or anything similar when you enter and take care that everything is clean when you decide to go out again. It is a good idea to use a disinfectant on your bag and personal gadgets if you touched them while out too.

Prioritizing personal hygiene and cleanliness helps to bring attention to it and to change our habits in a way that promote the spread of less infections.

What Else Can Be Done to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus?

Through washing our hands and minimizing our contact with organisms, we can effectively help to prevent contracting and spreading infections. Keeping our mouths covered or closed in public also helps, as well as avoiding people with symptoms. Additionally, focus on keeping your immune system healthy and strong.

Exercise, getting some sun every day, getting adequate sleep at the right times and consuming whole foods rich in immune-boosting vitamins and other nutrients are all perfect precautions you can also take to preventing the spread of any infection. Herbal teas such as green tea or ginger have also proven beneficial for supporting immunity, along with many other herbs and spices like garlic, Echinacea, black cumin, licorice root, turmeric, cayenne pepper and sage family herbs.

While some people might be forced to shelter at home, or self-isolate, or practice social distancing, it is important to keep your stress levels in check. This is not the best time to panic but is rather the best time to remain calm. Listen to all advice from health experts in your respective countries.  Use this time to learn a new skill, catch up on your reading, or spend time with your family. In today's connected it is easy to stay connected with your loved ones through social media, facetime and other apps even if you cannot physically see them. 

Conclusion

In summary, the reasoning behind refraining from touching our faces has been around since scientists discovered that cleanliness reduces mortality and the spread of infectious diseases. Our chances of contracting disease are influenced by how mindful we are about hygiene and the state of our immune systems, with the COVID-19 being no exception to the rule. Remember to remain calm, get enough nutrition and rest and stop to think before scratching your next itch!

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Reference:

  • https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-medicine/Verification-of-the-germ-theory
  • https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2012.00068/full
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1720794/pdf/v078p0F232.pdf
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1326149/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6003010/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338477/
  • https://www.today.com/health/how-coronavirus-spread-how-stop-touching-your-face-prevent-infection-t175189
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3365247/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24564587
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