There are plenty of reasons why most of us would opt out of wearing a face mask if we could. Masks can pick up and accumulate sweat, makeup, pollen, and whatever particles might happen to float by (via The Desert Review). Depending on the materials your mask is made of, wearing a mask could trigger allergies, itchiness, and possibly even “maskne” (yep, that’s mask induced acne). When you wear masks long enough, the backs of your ears begin to get tender and irritated, and unless you wear an extender, having a loose mask on may only be slightly better than having no mask at all. And let’s not even talk about what happens in the summer, when the heat, and in some places the humidity, begin to make mask wearing a real challenge.
But all the inconveniences while wearing masks would be trivial if we found out that wearing a mask could actually hurt our lungs in the long run. And despite the memes and medical claims made on social media, do they really?
No, wearing face masks every day do not cause carbon dioxide poisoning
Claims that mask wearing was detrimental to a person’s lungs in particular, and possibly his or her health in general, began circulating in the spring, around the time the CDC recommended the use of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Internet fact-checking site Snopes appears to have had its hands full trying to debunk various theories about what happens to your lungs if you wear masks for too long. Theories include the belief that mask-wearing triggers hypercapnia, or carbon dioxide poisoning, and triggering a number of symptoms in the process.
In a blog post for Forbes, childhood cancer researcher Victoria Forster dismisses the idea that wearing a cloth mask can cause you to OD on carbon dioxide, “because carbon dioxide molecules are simply too small to be controlled by the majority of mask materials and simply pass right through.” She writes, “Take surgeons, for example — during long procedures, they wear surgical masks for hours with no ill-effects on their carbon dioxide levels. Having a surgeon with an altered mental state would not be in the best interests of either the patient or the surgeon and thankfully, this simply does not happen.”
Face masks do not deprive our arteries or tissues of oxygen
Despite what users on social media claim, wearing a mask every day will not reduce our oxygen intake to levels so critical our tissues are deprived, in a condition known as hypoxia. Masks do not cause hypoxemia, a condition characterized by low oxygen supplies to the arteries, either. “This misinformation may arise from the feeling of lack of air due to mechanical obstruction depending on the type of mouthpiece we are using. But the feeling of obstruction is because we are not used to using the mouth mask. But as such it will not cause us any kind of hypoxia,” Dr. Daniel Pahua Díaz, an academic from the National Autonomous University of Mexico medical school, was quoted as telling Animal Político earlier in May (via USA Today).
CDC guidelines on face masks is clear
The CDC’s guidelines have always been clear on who and why people should wear face masks. They have been equally clear about who shouldn’t wear face masks, and these include children under 2 years of age and persons who might have trouble breathing. The CDC is also clear about avoiding the use of respirators like N-95 masks, which are only for the use of medical personnel. And in case you think you can be excused from wearing a face mask because you have asthma or COPD, Mount Sinai Hospital professor of medicine Neil Schachter says, “I definitely recommend using a face mask for everyone in these times, especially for people with asthma and COPD. We need to protect those at risk, in particular those with fragile airways.” And if you don’t like it? Spokesperson for the American for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says you should “avoid public places as much as possible” (via Creaky Joints). In other words, don’t go out.
So, what happens to your lungs (and your body for that matter) if you wear a face mask every day? Just about every licensed health care professional out there says absolutely nothing. And they should know, because, particularly in times like these, doctors and nurses on the front lines are called upon to wear face masks for hours, days, and weeks at a stretch.
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