Teenager Creates Ear Guards To Prevent Irritation From Facemasks, Donates Them To Health Care Workers

Newsweek's "Heroes of the Pandemic" series features everyday heroes showing service, sacrifice or kindness in the time of COVID-19.

When Paul Coschignano's mother mentioned that her ears were hurting due to hours wearing a facemask as she works in the health care industry, he set to work to provide a solution.

The 13-year-old, who lives in Eastchester, New York, had seen something on the internet about headbands that can relieve the pressure and irritation that some experience when the elastic bands on facemasks rub against the thin skin behind the ear. With that in mind, he used his 3D printer to create ear guards that will relieve the stress from the masks.

"When I heard my mom talking about how wearing the mask was irritating and she only wears it a few hours a day, I thought how much worse it would be for those health care workers wearing it for a longer period of time," Paul said in an interview with Newsweek.

Gina Coschignano, Paul's mother, works as a physical therapist, providing treatment to patients in their homes, and said that her colleagues have complained to her about strong irritation behind the ears and even bleeding.

Paul Coschignano
Eastchester, NY April 9, 2020 - Paul Coschigano, who at 13 years old designed and created ear guards to protect against irritation caused by masks worn by those on the frontlines combating the novel coronavirus. Gina Coschigano

The eighth grader told Newsweek that when he saw the idea for the ear guards on the internet, most of the designs were "one size fits all" and not adjustable. With that in mind, Coschignano designed his own ear guards, which fit behind the neck and include multiple notches around the edges that allow an individual to obtain the best fit. All the wearer needs to do is to put on a facemask as usual, then hold the ear guard in place behind the neck and stretch the elastic bands of the mask around the hooks on each side until they find a comfortable fit.

The ear guards are all made on Coschignano's 3D printer with Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament, which is biodegradable. PLA can also be disinfected, meaning the ear guards can be reused. Coschignano has also filed a patent for his design, which is currently pending.

"I myself tried out his first prototype and it was a huge help! He then came up with the idea to print several and donate them," Gina Coschignano told Newsweek in an email.

On April 10, Paul Coschignano donated the 100 ear guards he has printed to the Eastchester Volunteer Ambulance Corporation, the Eastchester Fire Department and the Westchester Medical Center.

Ear Guard Demonstration
Eastchester, NY April 10, 2020 - Gina Coschignano demonstrating how the ear guard alleviates stress placed behind the ears by the elastic band that holds the mask in place. Gina Coschignano

Mike Mezzone, a paramedic with the Eastchester Volunteer Ambulance Corporation, said he is grateful to have the ear guards for the masks which "get a little painful if you have to wear them all day long."

"We have all been going home with basically pressure ulcers on the back of our ears. This little invention just makes our day that much easier as the bands hook onto the ear guard instead of our ears. Paul is an amazing young kid for doing what he is doing. He is making more so, hopefully, he can help some other people, too," Mezzone said.

Coschignano, who attends Eastchester Middle School, said he had the materials and thought it could help so, "why not do something good with it?"

Gina Coschignano told Newsweek in an email that Paul loves technology and design "and is always looking to fill a need."

Paul Coschignano said he intends to keep making the ear guards and will "make as many as we need."

"We have no idea when this pandemic is going to end, but everyone who needs one should have one," he said. Currently, the venture is self-funded, but Paul hopes to fill as many orders as possible.

Anyone interested in an ear guard can email Coschignano at earguards42@gmail.com.

Know a hero you want to nominate to be featured in our series? Drop us a line at heroes@newsweek.com.

Ear Guard
Eastchester, NY April 9, 2020 - Ear guard created by Paul Coschignano. Patent is currently pending. Gina Coschignano