Unless you’re going to a costume party, you probably aren’t looking forward to wearing a face mask. The downsides to wearing a face mask are many. It’s a hassle to remember to put one on. Particularly on hot days, a face mask can start to feel like a furnace, making your skin hot and sticky. Worn for prolonged periods, the elastic loops around your ears begin to hurt your skin. And if your oral hygiene isn’t as thorough as you tell your dentist it is, then the mask can make your breath smell…overwhelming. But as uncomfortable as they can be, a face mask is still the primary way to protect yourself from the coronavirus. If the choice is between wearing a face mask or COVID-19, there’s no choice. The mask is a temporary inconvenience, but coming down with COVID-19 can have lasting effects.
Nevertheless, people want to find reasons not to wear a face mask. One reason that people often cite is that, supposedly, “face masks affect carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2) levels.” The belief is that, over time, wearing a mask over your mouth and nose will change the way you breathe, leading to poor lung performance. Because of the fear of oxygen deprivation, people may believe that not wearing a mask is safer than wearing one. A new study has blown that theory to bits.
A current research study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society suggests that face masks have minimal effect on carbon dioxide and oxygen levels when a person breathes. Even for individuals with chronic lung problems, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), wearing a mask does not cause breathing impairments.
The study participants involved healthy 15 individuals with no lung problems and 15 individuals with COPD. Preliminary oxygen levels for each participant were taken to establish a baseline level, and a six-minute walking exercise was conducted while using a mask. After the short exercise, their oxygen levels were retaken.
In the end, no clinically significant changes were found in blood oxygen levels, nor were there any changes in the carbon dioxide levels for any of the participants in the study. The study demonstrates how masks have no significant impact on breathing, even for people with severe lung problems.
The study debunks the myth that face masks impede breathing and make lung disorders worse. The researchers who conducted the study emphasized that “The discomfort associated with mask use should not lead to unsubstantiated safety concerns, as this may attenuate the application of a practice proven to improve public health.” In short, although wearing a mask can feel uncomfortable, it’s not dangerous. In fact, it protects your health.
During the pandemic, and through life in general, it’s always important to differentiate myth from fact. The following are seven other myths about face masks that you may have encountered.
Myth 1: Wearing a Face Mask Means You Don’t Have to Social Distance
Though it would be great if this myth were true, it’s false. The use of masks alone isn’t enough to protect you from the coronavirus. Face masks do not give you the green light to hug or sit close to people. COVID-19 can spread through droplets, through the air, and from person to person. Although a face mask is an important safety measure, it doesn’t offer 100% protection. Your risk also depends on hand washing, not touching your face, and physical distancing.
Myth 2: Your Immune System Weakens If You Wear a Mask and Wash Your Hands
According to the American Lung Association, wearing a mask does not weaken the immune system, nor does it make you more susceptible to getting COVID-19. Even young adults, who typically have robust immune systems, can get COVID-19, mostly when they don’t wear a mask. For instance, in the month of September, California’s highest number of reported cases was in the 18-34 age group, according to the California Department of Public Health. Most likely, this age group participated in social activities without face masks or social distancing measures.
Myth 3: You Don’t Need to Wear a Mask Because the Coronavirus Is a Fake Disease That Doesn’t Exist
If your social media feed tells you that the COVID doesn’t exist, then you might need to follow new accounts. The 1 million deaths worldwide and overwhelmed healthcare facilities were not caused by a “fake” virus that doesn’t exist. This myth is dangerous and ill-informed and may lead to even more deaths. When it comes to the coronavirus, respect the science, and make informed decisions — your life and the life of others depends on it.
Myth 4: You Can Cover Your Face with Anything and It Can Work as a Mask
A face mask only works to keep out virus particles, so a mesh fabric or a thin scarf won’t do the trick. These fabrics may feel more breathable, but they don’t keep out the virus. Open weaves don’t trap enough droplets or virus particles. Instead, use thicker fabrics or multiple layers of cotton to keep out viruses and droplets.
Myth 5: You Don’t Need to Wear a Mask Unless You’re Sick
Masks work to protect you from other people and to protect other people from you. The CDC cites numerous studies that demonstrate how people who have no symptoms can still have COVID-19, and these people can spread the virus without even being aware that they are sick. It’s best to wear a mask whenever you’re around others who aren’t part of your household, especially in situations where crowds may occur or you may want to speak to others.Related: 8 Common Issues with Wearing Face Masks and How to Fix Them
Myth 6: You Don’t Have to Wear a Mask When You’re Outdoors
An outdoor environment does, indeed, decrease the risk of contracting the coronavirus due to improved air circulation. Nevertheless, you should still wear a mask, mainly when social distancing isn’t possible. For example, if you’re strolling alone in the park, then you don’t need a mask. But if you’re walking in a crowded area like an outdoor shopping center, you should wear a face mask.
Myth 7: Cloth Masks Don’t Work
According to recent feedback from the CDC and Mayo Clinic, the widespread use of face masks –including those made out of cloth — has helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 significantly. A cloth mask traps droplets released when a wearer speaks, sneezes, coughs, or breathes. It can also keep the wearer from exposing themselves to virus particles from other people. Although not as effective as the medical-grade N95 masks (used by healthcare providers who have consistent and direct contact with COVID-19 patients), face masks made out of cloth reduce infection risk.
Spreading false information regarding the largest pandemic in modern history can have disastrous effects for everyone. Get the facts from legitimate sources like the CDC and NIH to answer your COVID-19 questions. And don’t forget to wear a mask!Related: How Often Can You Use Reusable Masks Between Washing?