Children’s experiences of mask-wearing: a systemic review and narrative synthesis.

Publication date: Mar 27, 2024

Masks have been widely used as a preventative tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the use of masks by children has been controversial, with international guidelines recommending a risk-based approach to national policymakers. We aimed to conduct a systematic review that explores children’s experiences of mask-wearing, drawing on an evidence base that describes mask-wearing in different contexts including air pollution, and to prevent the spread of infectious disease. We searched MEDLINE, Embase and PsycINFO in June 2021, with repeat searches in August 2022 and January 2024, for primary research studies exploring children’s experiences of masks. Included studies reported on participants between 4 and 14 years (inclusive), with no restrictions on language where an English translation was available. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts and reviewed full texts, with discrepancies resolved by a third reviewer. We used the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool for quality appraisal and narrative synthesis to identify key findings. We also conducted stakeholder consultation (Patient and Public Involvement (PPI)) with nine children, where they submitted annotated drawings of their preferred masks to complement our review findings. We screened 982 titles and abstracts and reviewed 94 full texts. 45 studies were included in the synthesis. Children’s experiences of mask-wearing were influenced by their perceived necessity, social norms around their use and parental attitudes. Challenges related to mask-wearing were described, including difficulty reading facial expressions and physical discomfort. Children found it easier to wear masks when sitting and in cooler environments, and they benefited from unmasking during outdoor break time at school. As part of the PPI consultation, children highlighted the importance of mask design and the environmental impact of masks. Children’s experiences of mask-wearing were varied and context-dependent, with several mask-design challenges raised. Future policy on mask-wearing needs to consider the context in which mask-wearing would be most beneficial, and how local adaptations to policy can respond to children’s needs.

Concepts Keywords
Base face masks
Covid infection control
Pandemic paediatrics
Policymakers systematic review


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
drug DRUGBANK Medical air
disease MESH infectious disease
pathway REACTOME Infectious disease
disease IDO quality
disease MESH facial expressions
disease VO time
disease MESH infection

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