Numerous health myths regarding the wearing of face masks are circulating the internet, causing many individuals to be hesitant to don the garment that has the potential to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Concerns that masks might lower oxygen levels, raise carbon dioxide levels, or become a source of infection themselves are unfounded, according to health experts.
“Scientific studies are showing that there’s no real important changes in C02 levels or oxygen levels even from wearing surgical masks,” according to Kirsten Koehler, an associate professor in environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And fabric masks have better permeation for gases. It’s not something that I’m concerned about at all. Probably more likely is that people are hot when wearing a mask and so people maybe just feeling overheated.”
Individuals with severe asthma may have trouble wearing a mask, although according to Dr. David Stukus, a member of the Medical Scientific Council for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), most asthmatics should wear face masks, due to their increased vulnerability to contracting severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“For people with very mild asthma or well-controlled asthma, it’s probably not going to be an issue,” according to Dr. Stukus. “For people who have very severe disease and have frequent exacerbations, ER visits, hospitalizations, require lots of medications and frequent symptoms, it might cause more issues for those folks.”
“The vast majority of the people with true underlying lung disease are going to wear a mask because they know if they get exposed to this virus, they’re at very higher risk for serious complications,” adds Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health.
Bacteriological infections are also unlikely if the mask is properly cared for, including the proper washing of multi-use cloth masks. Dr. Sullivan also points out that surgical teams have been safely using masks to prevent infecting their patients for decades.
“If [people] wear masks correctly, it’s true that the work of breathing is a little harder. But that just means that the mask is acting as a filter,” explained Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and medical director of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases. “If you have to breathe in and it out of a filter, it takes a little more work.”
Once leaving an infected individual’s mouth or nose, most water droplets containing coronavirus particles only appear to travel about 6 feet before drifting to the ground—hence the commonly used measurement of 6 feet (2 meters) for social distancing rules—but a properly-worn face mask will effectively inhibit the forward flow of any particles that fail to be caught by the mask’s fibers, helping to reduce the distance the virus can travel. Science edutainer Bill Nye demonstrated the effect in a pair of TikTok videos using his (in)ability to blow out a candle while wearing various face masks.