Is wearing a face mask bad for your immune system?

July 9, 2020

Right now, wearing a mask has become necessary during the coronavirus pandemic. Infectious disease experts agree that when combined with social distancing, eye protection, and frequent hand washing, facial coverings can slow the spread of the virus. Now, from made-at-home cloth masks to more rigid N95 masks, people are out and about making facial coverings an everyday activity.

But some people say wearing a mask reduces oxygen supply. If this is true, then it could prove fatal due to one’s own carbon dioxide exhaled while breathing. Low oxygen can leave them to feel light-headed, smothered. It is a real and genuine concern for people. But is it true?

It comes down to what kind of mask you are wearing and how long you are wearing it.

When it comes to breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, infectious disease specialists said there’s no evidence to support the idea that cloth and surgical masks—the blue rectangular masks typically worn by nurses and doctors—lead to breathing problems. They don’t fit tightly enough to impede airflow or trap carbon dioxide.

Experts also say carbon dioxide molecules are simply too small to be controlled by the majority of mask materials and simply pass right through. Take surgeons for example, during long procedures, they wear surgical masks for hours with no bad effects on their carbon dioxide levels.

But with the popular N95 mask, it could be a different story.

“It is known that the N95 mask, if worn for hours, can reduce blood oxygenation as much as 20 percent,” Dr. Russell Blaylock wrote on Technocracy News. This, he said, “can lead to a loss of consciousness, as happened to the hapless fellow driving around alone in his car wearing an N95 mask, causing him to pass out, and to crash his car and sustain injuries. I am sure that we have several cases of elderly individuals or any person with poor lung function passing out, hitting their head. This, of course, can lead to death.”

Also, staying at home can weaken your immune system.

Research has found that loneliness and social isolation can have a direct adverse effect on health, such as impaired immunity, depression, poor sleep quality and poor cardiovascular health.

According to a study led by UCLA professor Steve Cole, loneliness and social isolation can increase inflammation (the immune’s system response to fight off a threat and decrease immune capacity).

So how long is too long to wear your mask?

Most doctors say use common sense. If you’re doing a highly strenuous activity, practice social distancing without your mask on as to maximize your oxygen intake. The same thing goes for doing activities in extreme heat. This is especially important during the summer. Some people may want to be extreme, but if you’re by yourself at home, there’s no need to wear a mask.

The same thing applies to your car, unless you fear spreading the germs to people that will get in your vehicle. In that case, a simple wipe down of your car with CDC approved disinfectants can help.

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