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The ability to have remote, online meetings at home can be very convenient. But it also introduces a whole list of opportunities for very embarrassing moments.
If you have kids, pets, babies or even a window behind you displaying the outdoors, you have all of the ingredients of a recipe for disaster.
Table of Contents
In this article we’ll cover some of the most common issues that could lead to embarrassing online meetings, and how to prevent them.Online Meetings: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
One of the most famous examples of just such an embarrassing moment happened to Professor Robert Kelly when he was being interviewed live on television by the BBC.
One of Kelly’s toddler-aged children walked into his office, mid-interview, and so did his baby in a walker. Finally, his frantic wife races into the room to extract the children from the room.
Not only was this an embarrassing online meeting moment, but it was one that took place live and was broadcast around the world to millions of viewers.Preventing Embarrassing Online Meeting Moments
There are ways you can set up your workspace, your computer, and the meeting itself to reduce the odds of any unfortunate events.
If you follow all of these guidelines, you can rest assured that all your online meetings will go smoothly and without any “memorable” moments.Block Your Camera When Not In Use
There are a lot of security reasons why you should keep your webcam covered unless it’s in use. But security aside, you also don’t want to show your video at the start of an online meeting before you’re ready.
There have been stories of people caught going to the bathroom during a meeting because their webcam was pointed toward an open bathroom door.
This can happen for multiple reasons.
The webcam turns on automatically at meeting start time
You forget that the camera is turned on during a meeting
You thought the meeting ended but the camera is still on while people are connected
The easiest way to prevent all of these scenarios is to use the slider cover on your webcam if it has one. If it doesn’t, then keep some tape handy to keep over the camera when it’s not in use.Use Curtains On Background Windows
Windows might be great to let light into your office, but when you’re in an online meeting they can cause a lot of problems.
There are multiple scenarios that can lead to embarrassment with windows, so let’s explore the three main ones.You Look Like a Villain
Imagine someone showing up in a meeting and they only appear like a shadow in a darkened room. What would your first impression be about that person?
Most people would be reminded of any number of movies where a villain is sitting in a dungeon lair, plotting their next evil plan.
Light flowing in through a window plays tricks with most webcams and forces them to automatically filter light, making the entire room appear much darker than it actually is.
The easiest way to fix this issue is to dress any windows behind you in curtains, and always keep the curtains or shades closed during meetings.Pets Love Windows
Pets also love windows, and pets and online meetings rarely combine very well.
If you notice people in the meeting snickering or chuckling while you’re talking, you may want to take a look behind you.
The odds are pretty good your cat is up to no good.
If you’re ready to start an online meeting, get all of your pets out of the room so they aren’t hiding on the window sill ready to embarass you during your video conference.
Note: Shutting the office door (and locking it) can keep out unwanted pets and other uninvited guests.The Outdoors Aren’t Always Lovely
The other problem with windows is the stuff that happens on the other side of those windows.
Do you really want your coworkers or other meeting attendees seeing your neighbor mowing the lawn outside in their pajamas?
You never know who or what is going to pass by the window, so this is yet another reason to make sure that window behind you has curtains, and that you use them.Crank Up The Lighting
Speaking of lighting, a well lit office makes for the best video during a web conference. The best way to accomplish perfect lighting is to position your desk so that there’s a window (with the curtains open) either behind the monitor you’re facing, or off to the side.
Natural light from windows on the side does the opposite that a window behind you does. Instead of forcing the webcam to filter light, it sheds natural light on you for the camera to pick up.
If you don’t have a window located the right way in your office, the next best solution is to turn on as many overhead lights as you have.
Better yet, use Philips Hue lights and set them to the brightest setting.Tidy Up Before Meetings
According to a 2023 study by the University of Michigan, psychologists found that people developed negative opinions about people just by the state of their office.
This finding isn’t surprising. However, it’s unfortunate if you’ve been working hard all week and just haven’t had time to clean up the space around you before that online video meeting.
The easy solution is to schedule at least 15 minutes in your calendar before the start of the video meeting. Spend that time picking up all of the clutter behind you. At least clean up everything that the camera can see.
It may not mean the entire room is clean, or that your desktop isn’t still cluttered, but if people attending the meeting can’t see the clutter, they won’t know any better.Oh The Sounds We Make
Sound can be your worst enemy during a video conference. There are all kinds of ways your microphone can embarrass you.
Just consider forgetting your microphone is turned on and doing any of the following:
Eating chips or something else crunchy and loud
Muttering something negative about a coworker under your breath that everyone can hear
Having a personal side conversation with your spouse or other family member
Making embarrassing bodily sounds
All of these scenarios could range from mildly humorous to painfully embarrassing.
What’s the solution? Always check that you’re muted at the start of the meeting unless you need to speak, and keep a close eye on your microphone status during the meeting.
Even better, configure your video conference software settings so that the microphone automatically stays muted when the meeting starts.
In Skype, you can find this setting in the Settings menu, under Audio & Video. Just make sure Unmute for incoming calls is turned off.
Most major video conferencing applications have a similar setting for the microphone.Other Helpful Tips
There are a few other tips that may help with your video calls:
Sharing screens: When sharing your screen, don’t select the share button before you see the correct screen highlighted. Every major online conferencing app highlights the screen you’ve selected so you always know which screen you’re going to share. Sharing the wrong screen could lead to people seeing things you don’t want them to.
Embarrassing notifications: There’s nothing worse than a coworker sending you a personal message while you’re sharing your screen during a meeting. Disable windows notifications before every video conference.
Window placement: A common mistake people make is placing the chat window with everyone’s faces on a screen away from the webcam. Instead, place it on the same screen so it looks like you’re looking at people directly.
Virtual backgrounds – Most apps like Zoom and Skype now let you choose a virtual background. You can either pick something from the presets or you can download your own image and use it as a background. Some apps let you blur the background too, so if you’re stuck with a bad backdrop for your call, get a virtual one.
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Since most of us have moved to video conferencing platforms, meetings have become quite an overwhelming endeavor for many. The physical office memos have been replaced with scheduled meetings, and the transition hasn’t been easier for many.
Fortunately, the leader of the video conferencing tools, Zoom, offers a boatload of easy-to-master features that make the task of meeting scheduling a lot simpler. Today, we’ll take a look at Zoom’s recurring meetings and tell you how it helps your day to day work.
Related: How to change your name on Zoom
What is a Recurring Meeting?
Zoom has tried its best to replicate the essential elements of day to day office life. It allows you to start a meeting in a heartbeat, schedule one for a later date, and even make them recurring.
The last bit — Recurring Meeting — is the topic we’re concerning ourselves with today. For beginners, getting introduced to a whole new term can seem a bit daunting, but rest assured that there isn’t much you need to do to make it work. A Recurring Meeting simply means that the meeting would once again take place on a later date, for one ore more times.
Think of it as a monthly budget meeting — a place where every accountant in your company pitches in and shares their individual tallies. It could also be a quarterly planning meeting, which helps in giving a company direction for the next quarter.
When you make a meeting Recurring, Zoom simply creates many instances of the same meeting on your chosen dates. It simply copies the data from the original meeting and pastes it on other slots. You can set the duration of the meetings and set the agenda as well, making the objective of the meeting clear to all participants.
Related: How to Mute on Zoom
How to set a Recurring Meeting in Zoom on PC?
Once the next screen pops up, simply make the meeting ‘Recurring’ by ticking the option.
After making the meeting recurring, you’ll get the option of choosing a calendar. Zoom here offers three choices — ‘Microsoft Outlook,’ ‘Google Calendar,’ and ‘Other Calendars.’
Related: How to Play Music on Zoom
Once you do, Zoom would initiate contact with the desktop application and give you the option of setting the meeting as a recurring event.
After you’re happy with your selection, hit ‘Ok.’ Finally, save the Recurring Meeting by hitting the ‘Save’ icon at the top-left corner.
Google Calendar is an immensely popular calendar application. Unlike Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar doesn’t require a desktop version to work flawlessly, as the web version can do the task just as efficiently. To go to Google Calendar and complete the process, all you have to do is check the ‘Google Calendar’ option from the three-item list and hit ‘Schedule.’
You’ll be redirected to the Calendar webpage in an instant.
If you happen to use something other than Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar, you could use this option to save your appointments.
Unlike the previous two options, this doesn’t trigger an invoke action and only creates a local ICS calendar file. You can open the file in your favorite calendar app to carry out the rest of the procedure.
Related: Zoom audio not working? Here’s how to solve it
How to set a Recurring Meeting in Zoom on mobile?
Desktop users generally have access to a lot of extra perks, but, fortunately, the ability to create a Recurring Meeting isn’t one of them. You can very easily create a recurring meeting both on Android and iOS. Unlike PC, here, you’re taken directly to your default calendar app.
Once you’ve logged in to the mobile app, tap on ‘Schedule.’
On the next page, hit ‘Repeat.’
Take your pick from the five options — daily, weekly, every alternate week, monthly, and yearly.
After selecting the recurrence frame, you can also tap on ‘End Repeat’ and pick the end date of the recurring meeting.
Once you’re satisfied with your choices, hit ‘Done.’
This action would take you to your default calendar app and ask for permission.
Related: How to see everyone on Zoom on PC and Phone
After you land on Google Calendar, tap on ‘More Options’ under the date and time settings. Tap on ‘Does not repeat’ to pick from presets — daily, weekly, monthly, and annually — or set a custom recurrence schedule. Recheck your selections and hit ‘Done.’
If Microsoft Outlook is your default calendar client, tap ‘Repeat’ and select recurrence options. When you’re happy with your selection, tap on the little tick icon at the top-right corner. Finally, hit ‘Save’ and exit.
How to delete a Recurring Meeting?
Changed your mind about an upcoming Recurring Meeting? Fret not, deleting a Recurring Meeting is easier than you might expect.
Finally, hit ‘Yes’ to confirm. You could also recover the meeting within 7 days of discarding it.
On mobile, first, fire up the Zoom client and log in with the required credentials. Once you’re in, go to the ‘Meetings’ tab and locate the Recurring Meeting you want to delete.
Tap to see its properties, and hit ‘Delete.’
Acknowledge the warning and hit ‘Delete Meeting.’
What are the benefits of Recurring Meetings?
Now that you know how to set a Recurring Meeting, let us give you a couple of reasons why you should start putting your routines in ‘Recurring.’
First and foremost, scheduling a Recurring Meeting is a lot more straightforward than doing the work manually over and over again. Put in a little work the first time and stop worrying about not conducting your meetings on time.
Additionally, Recurring Meetings are great for continuity. It allows the team leaders to keep in touch with the ground staff and extend a helping hand when needed. By ensuring engagement, it’s possible to improve the productivity of the entire team.
blog / General 10 pivotal moments in Eruditus’ 10-year journey
By Co-Founders Ashwin Damera and Chaitanya Kalipatnapu
On October 26th 2023, the Eruditus group completes a decade of making high quality education accessible and affordable. Over these 10 years, we have played a small but significant role in imparting high quality professional education to over 100,000 students from across 80+ countries. We recently announced our Series D fundraise and as we plan for the next phase of impacting professionals around the world, we can’t help but relive the moments that have shaped this decade-long journey.
1. We failed, before we found success
It’s quite glamorous to talk about success, but it was the failure of our first program that played an important role in shaping our business model. We launched a 3-month executive program in the Indian market with the idea that we can assemble the best faculty and practitioners, with an equal dose of lectures, applications, and projects to create a blockbuster program.
Image: Brochure of Strategic Marketing Program, circa 2010. A big thank you to Prof. Nirmal Gupta and Prof. Amitava Chattopadhyay for teaching in this program, our very first.
While it had all the ingredients of success, after a three-month-long marketing cycle, we were only able to enroll 21 participants. We ran the program, of course, at a huge loss but it gave us invaluable experience on how to position and execute a world-class program. We realized that it was not enough just to have the best of faculty; we also needed a brand on which to carry the program. This helped us define our “product-market-fit”, made us navigate towards collaborating with top universities and defined our business model going forward.
2. Knocking on INSEAD’s Doors, Our 10-year association with INSEAD
Learning from that failure, we were hyper-focused to work with a top academic institution to deliver a high quality program. Thus came the collaboration with INSEAD in 2011 to launch a one-year-long general management program — INSEAD Leadership Programme for Senior Executives (ILPSE).
INSEAD wanted to expand its executive education portfolio and was keen to launch a management program in India. We pitched (and repitched!) a multi-modular program for senior executives leveraging their on-campus locations, India and Technology (Telepresence). Thanks to the willingness to experiment from Miklos Sarvary (its then Exec-ed Dean) and Martin Garguilo (Asia Dean for Exec-ed) along with the phenomenal vision of Prof. Paddy Padmanabhan and Prof. Bala Vissa, ILPSE was born. But for their bet, it’s safe to say we would have been far off our mark!
It is now in the 10th year of running, which is a testimony to our business model and has set the ball rolling for such collaborations. We are extremely grateful to the faculty team who have taught over the years and to the leadership of Mary Kwan, Mark Roberts, and the splendid team of INSEAD Program Coordinators for being tremendous partners and helping us grow the partnership!
3. Momentum with top universities
Partnering with INSEAD built momentum for us to sign up the next four schools — Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), MIT, Columbia Business School, and Tuck@Dartmouth, to offer in-class and blended programs for senior executives in emerging markets.
Prof. Harbir Singh was excited to launch Wharton programs in India in 2012. We were privileged that our very first Wharton program was taught by Prof. Jagmohan Raju, under whose visionary leadership the partnership has continued to grow. We have managed to scale the impact further, with programs now being offered in the Middle-east and online.
The pioneering spirit of Prof. Vijay Govindarajan (Tuck), Prof. Suresh Sunderasan (Columbia Business School), Prof. Charlie Fine (MIT Sloan) and Prof. Sanjay Sarma (MIT), helped us launch new courses with their respective schools, all of which were very successful.
This effort was ably supported by administrators of these phenomenal institutions: Maria Pitone (Wharton), Mike Malefakis (Wharton, ex-CBS), Katherine Lewis (CBS), Martin Hackett (ex-Wharton), Peter Hirst (MIT Sloan), Paul Smith (MIT Sloan), Ann Marie Maxwell (MIT Sloan), Bhaskar Pant (MIT), Clara Piloto (MIT), Lily Fu (ex-MIT), Tc Haldi (MIT ODL), Clark Callahan (ex-Tuck) and Phil Barta (Tuck), who had the vision and the belief to collaborate with Eruditus, a nascent venture at that time! We are indebted to them for reposing their faith in us.
4. Embracing Online: SPOC not MOOC
The first phase of our journey was focused on in-class and blended programs. With the launch of Coursera in 2013 and edX in 2014, universities evinced more interest and were willing to experiment with online. We were excited by the ability of online education to scale access but we were clear that we want to scale with high impact learning outcomes.
We set out to create Emeritus as a platform to provide online courses, in collaboration with MIT Sloan, Columbia Business School, and Tuck. And in the process helped define the market for Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs).
The first course which helped set the standard was aptly the seminal work on 3 Box Approach by Prof. Vijay Govindarajan. Our frugal team (Ashwin and Shaun especially!) wore multiple hats from Instructional Design to Slide preparation to Pre-production to innumerable hours of video editing and LMS Administration. It was literally building the plane as we flew!
We are also indebted to Prof. Gita Johar (ex-Head of Online Initiatives, CBS) for her guidance in scaling this new initiative and defining the category of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). We also fondly remember and cherish the support of late Prof. Katherine Phillips (CBS) for being one of the pioneers to experiment and encourage us in delivering high quality education in this format. Without their support, we wouldn’t have gotten the traction we did.
5. Our first institutional fundraise: Bertelsmann
We were rejected by nearly 20 funds, and there was a point when we wondered if we should raise capital at all. It didn’t seem like investors were buying into the aspiration we had that we could create a scalable global venture out of India. But then came Bertelsmann, who understood education and global scale very well. They were a great fit! They pushed us to think about looking at other regional markets like LATAM and China. We are grateful to Shobhna Mohn, Pankaj Makkar and Pranjal Kumar for their insane trust in us and to constantly challenge in helping us find our “Right to win!”
Image Source: Link (4th March, 2023)
Raising our Series C funding with Sequoia in late 2023 was another huge shot in the arm. Beyond their philosophy of backing enduring companies, they introduced us to an enviable ecosystem, be it other portfolio companies or the talent that we were able to attract, which has helped us create a truly global company. Thanks to GV Ravishankar (GV) and team, we have accelerated our investments to highlight the “tech” of “edtech” and have reinforced our efforts in building an enduring company! GV always pushed us to think of how we can become an “enduring company”, a term that Sequoia uses to describe companies that dominate their category (e.g. Google, YouTube, Zoom, Airbnb etc). Read more here
Image Source: Link (10th Jan 2023)
7. Our leap onto the global stage
Our mission of providing access to affordable, high-quality education could not have happened without going global. Working with world-class institutions and in the online format, helped us expand the canvas beyond India, Middle East, and APAC, which had been our market in the initial years. We now offer over 100 programs in more than 80 geographies and in the process are reaching over 100,000 working professionals.
8. Our team culture drove our growth
This journey would not have been possible without the combination of people and culture that we were able to nurture. We are extremely fortunate to have a mission-driven team! Their shared vision to make high quality education more accessible and affordable, along with the emphasis to collaborate and to challenge, has helped us scale. Many of our early team members are still with us. It is great validation for us that we have people who share the passion for our mission and enjoy working at Eruditus group. We now have more than 630 team members across 7 geographies, with 44% being women.
With the growth pains of a venture and its demanding responsibilities, besides frequent spells of long hours, we acknowledge the sacrifices the team had to make at the expense of their family time and other commitments. We are extremely blessed and proud to have such a team!
9. We walked the talk
As an EdTech company, we have a ringside view of some of the foremost thought leaders in action. It’s not just the participants who learn from this amazing faculty but we as a company have had that privilege as well. Be it Prof. Vijay Govindarajan’s Three Box Solution which helped us launch new lines of business, Prof. Sanjay Sarma’s vision on the future of learning, applying design thinking by Prof. Steve Eppinger in creating courses, the power of networking by Prof. Balagopal Vissa in expanding our ecosystem, the Talent on Demand framework by Prof. Peter Cappelli, Prof. Harbir Singh’s global strategy which influenced our global business growth, Prof. Jagmohan Raju’s approaches for Smart Pricing, Prof. David Rogers’ frameworks on Digital Transformation, Prof. Mohan Sawhney’s approaches on bolder bets, and Prof. Paddy Padmanabhan’s succinct principles in finding opportunities from crises, — each of Thought Leaders have influenced and refined our strategy and we have applied their frameworks in various phases of our journey.
10. The compatibility factor
And finally, it is important to have that “founder fit” and we have been extremely fortunate to have met each other. We share a common passion for making high-quality education accessible and affordable, and we have stuck together through the crests and troughs of this decade-long journey. And what more, we became family in the process!
It is imperative to acknowledge the support and sacrifices of our spouses, Bhagyashree Damera and Emmanuelle Perraud, so that we can put in the effort, energy and time towards the venture. Without them and our families, none of this would have been possible!
When we started Eruditus ten years ago, we didn’t think even in our wildest dreams that we would partner with 28 world-class institutions and positively impact more than 100,000 professionals across 80-plus countries. With the support of our University partners, our passionate team and the belief in our mission from our Series D investors – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Leeds Equity and Naspers, we are sticking our necks out and asking, “Why can’t we make this impact 10X?”
A Cartoonish Way to Prevent Cruelty
In graduate school, I mostly studied –isms. Feminism. Marxism. Racism. I got a Master’s degree in Cultural Theory, which is sort of an intersection between philosophy and deep analysis of English literature. Mostly, I read philosophers who talked about literature and wanted to change the world. When I started my course of study, I thought I would get a PhD. I thought I would become a professor. But over the course of two years of graduate study, I realized that all we were doing was reading and talking. The authors we read were writing mostly in terms so abstract that you could hardly divine what they were talking about, let alone what they wanted to accomplish. It seemed a terrible way to change the world, talking but not doing anything. So, I left.[Image via Cinematical]
There’s a fad going around Facebook this week that is bothering me. Lots of people I know are changing their avatars to cartoon characters. Apparently, a children’s rights organization called NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has inspired the campaign, which seeks to replace all of the faces on Facebook with childhood memories. Thus, people are changing their profile pictures to their favorite cartoon characters.
At first, I was ready to jump on board. I started looking for pictures of my favorite characters. I wanted to find a good picture of Sky Warp from the Transformers. He was a cool black and purple jet that transformed into an evil robot. I couldn’t find anything good, so I started browsing G.I. Joe cartoon images.
The irony didn’t escape me. As part of a campaign to promote awareness of cruelty, I was looking for pictures of villains and soldiers of war. Sure, nobody ever died in cartoons, but it still felt odd. But then something else occurred to me.
I do not support cruelty to children. I am a loving parent. I’ve been a caring high school teacher. I was a supportive camp counselor to kids ages 10 – 14. I still keep in touch with former students, former campers. I was a swimming instructor for kids, specializing in hydrophobes and other difficult cases. I taught infant swim classes, teaching parents how to teach their children to swim. I worked with special needs children at camp and in my schools.
Why do I need to do anything more to prove that I’m not in favor of cruelty to children? I like my Facebook avatar. It’s a cool, somewhat abstract self-portrait of my eye on a cracked phone screen. I put some thought into it, and I think it says something interesting about me. Know what doesn’t say anything interesting about me? Snake Eyes. Megatron.
The only people who see my Facebook avatar will be my friends and people who search Facebook for me. If any one of those people needs me to prove that I don’t support cruelty towards children, they shouldn’t be my friend, and I don’t care if they can find me in a search.
It seems like just a lot of talk with no action behind it. I don’t think that my Facebook friends are cruel towards children. I’m not friends with anyone who ever gave me the impression they were cruel, and I hope I’m right. But changing my Facebook profile picture seems like just about the weakest thing I could do to prevent cruelty to children. It seems like an easy, self-aggrandizing step, with no real muscle behind it.
Once, I encountered a case of a parent who was punishing a child in an especially cruel manner. I won’t go into details, except to say that I had to call child protective services and file a report. It was a difficult thing to do, because the end result might have been separating a child from her parent. But it was the right thing to do, because I have never believed in cruel punishment, and I will put my feelings and my reputation on the line to protect a child.
If you’re not on a front-line job with children, there are still many ways to prevent cruelty. You can offer your time to organizations that need help. If you don’t have free time, you can make a trade, instead. Give time to your job, which will in turn give you money, and then give some of that money to the NSPCC. That’s the way the world works, and I think we’re better off for it. There is nothing wrong with giving money instead of your free time or effort. Either way, you are giving support.
Enough with the empty gestures. If I change my Facebook avatar, I’m telling a bunch of people who already know me that I’m against cruelty towards children. Also, I like puppy dogs and enjoy chocolate, in case you didn’t know. If you want to raise awareness about cruelty towards children, do something real. Find a way to tell people who haven’t already gotten the message, or support groups that can get the message to the people who need to hear it.
Changing a profile picture, hitting the “Like” button on Facebook, slapping a bumper sticker on your car, these are the most insignificant and self-centered ways of making a statement. If you aren’t exposing yourself to people you don’t know, you aren’t spreading the message. If you think you can send a message by doing something effortlessly, you don’t know how real change is accomplished.
I know your heart is in the right place. I know you want to do something good, especially during this time of year. But helping to change the world takes more than abstract reading and talking. It takes real interaction with the world around you.
This post has been updated. It was originally published on October 27, 2023.What are allergies, anyway?
Allergies are a broad, diverse group of ailments unified by the principle of hypersensitivity. When a person’s immune system starts overreacting to an otherwise harmless substances—like peanuts or pollen—it becomes an allergy. Your body produces far too much of an immune response when it detects an allergen, so much so that some people go into anaphylactic shock. Others just get itchy, or bits of them swell up, but they’re all related responses. Your body is trying to fight what it thinks is an invader.
We’re still not entirely sure why they develop in some people and not others. It seems like a combination of genetics and environmental exposure. What you eat, where you live, who your parents are, how many allergens you’re exposed to—they all seem to influence your risk. Which is why so many parents hope to find the right set of conditions to keep their kids allergy free.Allergy rates are rising, even in adults
But while many parents have these intentions, it seems like every time we survey the American public there are even more food allergies. Shellfish reactions are up 7 percent, tree nuts are up 18, and peanuts up by 21. These numbers are courtesy of a survey presented this week at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology conference, which sampled over 53,000 US households. This rise is almost certainly the result of a combination of factors, but one of the stand out explanations is known as the hygiene hypothesis.
You’ve heard it before: Kids just aren’t playing in the dirt enough. Young bodies have to learn how to differentiate dangerous substances from harmless ones, and if you don’t expose your child to enough would-be worldly allergens, their immune systems are more liable to get confused.
Then there’s the influence of antibiotics. A healthy bacterial flora seems to ward off allergic diseases, so perhaps our propensity to dole out antibiotics for even minor ailments has hurt our immune systems overall. Vitamin D deficiency and obesity have also been linked to asthma and allergies, though the exact mechanism behind this potential connection is still unclear. And there’s the fact that for many years we told parents not to give kids allergy-inducing foods until age two, which we now realize was exactly the opposite of what we should have been doing.
[Related: Everything you ever wanted to know about vitamin D]
But it’s not just kids who are developing more inflammatory reactions. That same survey found that 45 percent of people with food allergies didn’t develop them until adulthood. Shellfish seems to be the most common culprit. Children have the highest proportion of peanut allergies, but by the time they’re grown up, shrimp has overtaken Skippy’s as public enemy number one.
We’re still not entirely sure what causes allergies—it’s probably a constellation of combined attributes—or why certain groups of people tend to be at higher risk. In the US, black children generally develop more allergies. Australia has one of the highest rates in the world, and immigrants who arrive there from lower-risk countries tend to have kids with increased risk, which suggests there are environmental factors at work.There’s still some resistance to giving peanuts to babies, despite all the evidence
In January 2023, the National Institutes of Health officially revised its recommendation on peanut exposure, saying that kids who aren’t at any especially high risk for allergic diseases should be fed peanuts around age 4 to 6 months. This was based on a massive study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2023, showing that kids who ate peanuts at that age were 80 percent less likely to develop an allergy to them. A follow-up study found that the exposure even protected those who didn’t continually consume the legumes after that first tentative taste. Even high-risk children should be evaluated to see whether they truly have a reaction, or whether early introduction could help prevent further development of a full-blown allergy.
“With clinical guidelines, it takes 10 years before they’re fully implemented in practice,” says Dave Stukus, an associate professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a spokesperson at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Stukus was part of the group that drafted the peanut guidelines at the NIH earlier this year, and he knows it’s not going to happen overnight. Physicians have to be brought up to date and educated about how to communicate with their patients.
The hardest people to reach, in Stukus’ experience, are the parents with older children who already have peanut allergies. They can be upset about the sudden switch in recommendation, and wary of the logistical nightmare of introducing a baby to peanuts in a household where another child is allergic. “You have to take the time to explain why the changes are taking place and what the potential benefits are,” he says. “Once you do that, people are very excited about it.”Having eczema as a baby can be an early sign of later asthma and allergies
Eczema might seem unrelated to allergies and asthma, but research has been building up a theory that a rash early in life can progress into serious immune problems. The idea is called “atopic march”—atopy is the tendency to develop allergies. The link between eczema and later immune issues may in part be a predisposition to developing multiple immunological diseases, but more studies are suggesting that there’s also a causal relationship.
Because “eczema” is actually a blanket term for a variety of related skin problems, many people think of it as a fairly random condition. But the most common type—atopic dermatitis—is essentially the result of a defective patch of skin that overreacts to irritants.
“With eczema, you have an altered skin barrier where the surface is sort of broken, and it allows moisture to escape. That’s why you get the dry skin,” explains Stukus. “But the barrier works both ways, so it’s also letting allergens in when maybe it wouldn’t be if it weren’t impaired.”
[Related: What’s the best allergy medication?]
That extra exposure and inflamed immune response could sensitize kids to reacting more easily to allergens, which could prompt the development of asthma and other allergic responses. “I see this every day in the clinic,” says Stukus, “and I tell my colleagues ‘listen, when you have a baby with terrible eczema, they’re declaring themselves to you that they’re maybe predetermined to have allergies and asthma.” Eczema gets better after a year or so, and you probably won’t see environmental allergies until age two or three, and then asthma takes even more time to develop—but they’re probably all linked.What should parents do with this information?
Parents of babies with eczema should consider going to an allergist, who will have experience treating and managing hypersensitive kids. Your baby could be tested for allergies before you expose them to potential triggers, just in case they’re likely to have a severe attack; the exposure could even take place in a doctor’s office for safety. It’s become pretty common for parents to pick a spot close to an emergency room for their kid’s first taste of peanut butter.
In general, it seems clear that parents should try to introduce allergens early on. All the evidence suggests that this will actively help children avoid sever allergies later. If you’re worried, head to an specialist. They’ll be able to walk you through the process and address your concerns, and even provide a plan for how to proceed. It’s scary, but necessary—and allergies are no joke.
Masks are an effective and easy way to protect ourselves and each other from COVID-19. Wearing one when you’re out and about is critical to fighting the pandemic. But because they rest directly on your skin, they can wreak havoc on your beautiful face. Ok, let’s talk about maskne.
This dermatological condition—a portmanteau of “mask” and “acne”—affects people of all ages and skin types, regardless of whether they have a history of skin irritation. It also doesn’t matter whether you wear masks for hours at a time or a couple minutes a day. Maskne is definitely not a reason to stop wearing masks whenever you’re unable to socially distance yourself, but it can be uncomfortable and permanently mark your skin.
Understanding how to prevent and treat it, while managing conditions that might make it worse—like cold winter air—will help you avoid turning your face into a constant reminder of the trainwreck that has been 2023.What is maskne?
“It’s very common in athletes who play football, lacrosse, or any kind of discipline where wearing padding is required,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University’s School of Medicine.
Generally, your skin does a good job shedding sebum and dead cells. However, when a mask constantly rubs against your skin, it’ll prevent the natural elimination of gunk, while also literally smearing it around your face and stuffing it into your pores. If you have sensitive or dry skin, this continuous friction may cause irritation or chafing, which eliminates the natural barrier of oil that protects your skin, making it even more vulnerable to clogged pores. The particular and… rather tropical… environment inside your mask doesn’t help either.
“There’s a perfect milieu of moisture, trapped dirt, sweat, saliva, and humidity that makes it easier for acne to thrive,” says Gohara. “There’s nothing specific about each of these factors, but when they work in tandem, maskne appears.”How to prevent maskne
Exfoliating can help keep gunk at bay—but only when done right. Cottonbro / Pexels
If you’ve ever had a breakout, you know that treating it takes time and effort. To fight maskne, it’ll be easier to simply prevent it.Choose your mask wisely
The right mask balances a snug fit with a material that lets you and your skin breathe, while also catching possibly-COVID-infected droplets.
Gohara recommends natural fabrics that are densely woven and 100 percent cotton or silk for acne avoidance—the latter will also help prevent chafing if you have sensitive skin.
There are no studies yet supporting the claim that wearing natural fibers has any effect on maskne, but Dr. Carolyn Jacob, founder and director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, says she’d “rather be safe” and also recommends masks made from this type of material.
Avoid synthetic fibers as they usually don’t breathe as well. If they’re stretchy, they also won’t be as effective at preventing you from potentially spreading the novel coronavirus.Wash your mask and your face
You should be washing your hands thoroughly and constantly, and you should do the same with your face before and after you wear a mask. But please, don’t use the same soap—the skin on your face is definitely not as thick and strong as the skin on your hands, so you should not treat them the same. For your face, go for a gentle, moisturizing cleanser and lukewarm water to eliminate dirt particles, excess oil, and dead skin cells.
Keep in mind that washing your face too often may actually deteriorate the natural protective barrier on your skin. So if you’re already lathering up those rosy cheeks once or twice a day as part of your skincare routine, make sure you apply a moisturizer made for your skin type afterward—heavier creams for dry skin, lighter gel-based lotions for oily skin.
In the winter, moisturizing is extremely important, as your skin may be drier and more sensitive than it normally is due to cold air and indoor heating. If you feel your skin is particularly tight after a gentle wash, it might be a good idea to go for a thicker face cream rather than your usual lotion. Thicker formulas will help you retain moisture and prevent irritation and chafing.
But washing your face will do nothing if you continue to wear the same gunk-ridden mask over and over again. After each wear, it’s crucial to wash your reusable face covering using a delicate soap or detergent, says Gohara—you can do so by hand or with the rest of your laundry.
Another good, albeit not-so-eco-friendly alternative, is to use disposable masks. This might be a good solution if you don’t have easy access to a washing machine or lack the space to let your masks hang dry.Some additional do’s and don’ts
Keeping your face constantly hydrated will help you protect it against friction, but putting several layers of products on your face could also clog your pores. Instead of applying face cream or lotion beneath your sunscreen—which, as a reminder, you should wear every day—go for a product that has built-in SPF 30 or higher, or opt for a powdered sunscreen that won’t obstruct your pores and will help regulate moisture.
To that same effect, it’s a good idea to forgo any kind of makeup—especially high coverage, liquid foundations—as doing so will give you one less thing to worry about clogging your pores. If you absolutely want (or have) to, Jacob recommends lighter makeup formats like pressed powders.
Finally, helping your skin cells with their natural turnover can help you reduce the amount of dirt that accumulates on the inside of your mask. Gohara is emphatic: “It’s only helpful if it’s done the right way. Scrubbing is for floors, not for faces, so it’s not a good idea to disturb your natural skin barrier.”
There’s a wide range of products for chemical exfoliation, from mild acids for sensitive skins to more abrasive compounds. The easiest way to find the right one for you is to try them by doing a patch test as indicated by the manufacturer. If any sort of irritation appears, stop using it.
But no matter the product you end up choosing, it’s important to carefully follow the instructions. Ignoring them or slacking off could seriously damage your skin. It is particularly crucial that you don’t leave the product on for longer than indicated, and when you find the right exfoliator, don’t overuse it. Doing it more than once or twice a week won’t allow your skin to regenerate your protective barrier fast enough, leaving you exposed to breakouts and even chemical burns.Fighting maskne and knowing when to ask for help
We know it’s hard to resist, but whatever you do, do not pop that zit. Maksim Goncharenok / Pexels
The pandemic has now lasted more than 10 months, so it’s likely that you’ve already experienced a maskne breakout. As with any kind of acne, the first and most important rule is simple: no picking, no popping. This will only make things worse, and it can leave permanent marks on your skin.
“You should use medications to decrease inflammation such as benzoyl peroxide, retinols, or retinoids,” says Jacob. For oily skins she recommends cleansers with salicylic acid, though these may be too harsh for patients with dry or sensitive skin. If that’s you, consider an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) wash and a retinol, she says.
When using your products, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and stop if you see further breakouts or irritation.
But if you have cystic acne—painful bumps under your skin—you’ll want to consult a professional, says Gohara. Dermatologists are seeing patients through video chats, so it’s easy to get the help you need.
Whatever kind of breakout you have, or treatment you follow, she also recommends patience. Skin takes 28 days to fully regenerate from the bottom layer to the top, and some acne medications take their sweet time in yielding any visible results. Being consistent with both treatment and preventive measures is key, she says.
Jacob is even more cautious: “Treatments will take two to three months to start helping and pink spots take longer to fade—up to six to eight months, sometimes. So get it under control as soon as possible to prevent those marks.”
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