Does prolonged wearing of a facemask cause harm?

Wearing of a facial mask is highly recommended in the fight against Covid-19.
The Claim: Prolonged use of face masks can cause carbon dioxide intoxication, dizziness, or other health challenges.
The Verdict: claim verdict

Claim: Prolonged use of face masks can cause carbon dioxide intoxication, dizziness, or other health challenges.

The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to recommend the use of masks as a safe and effective measure to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

The Health Desk Experts explained that it takes a high level of carbon dioxide to cause health problems.

“Studies have continued to show over the course of the pandemic that under most circumstances, wearing a face mask (whether a cloth mask, surgical mask, or respirator) leads to minimal changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and has no significant negative health effects,” said the Experts.

“It takes a very high level of carbon dioxide to cause health problems. These dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide do not build up with these masks when they are worn appropriately and for regular periods of time because the molecules are very tiny and easily pass through the mask materials.”

The experts said the masks are designed for constant breathing.

“Exhaled carbon dioxide caused by the use of face masks, including the N95 mask, has not been shown to cause carbon dioxide toxicity or lack of adequate oxygen in healthy people. Because the masks we make and purchase, and even the airtight medical masks, are designed for constant breathing, the risks of any side effects are low,” they said.

The Health Desk Experts were however quick to say some data does suggest that certain types of very protective masks worn during very strenuous activity can result in some health challenges.

“For instance, some studies have found that N95 respirators in particular, when worn over very long time periods and when used during very high-intensity work, can produce negative effects like headaches, difficulty breathing, and exhaustion. This situation is very uncommon for most people in day-to-day situations,” said the Experts.

“We previously reported in 2020 that for people diagnosed with illnesses such as COPD, emphysema, and obesity, and in heavy smokers, the consistent use of N95-like masks over long periods of time could cause some build-up of carbon dioxide levels in the body. This is not the case except in extreme cases such as very strenuous exercise.

“However, some people with severe respiratory conditions like asthma may not feel they can breathe adequately while wearing a mask. These individuals should try to stay out of public settings as much as possible where masks are needed,” they said.

The health experts added that the claim that the prolonged use of face masks can cause carbon dioxide intoxication, dizziness, or other health challenges is not grounded in science.

“In fact, healthcare workers often wear masks for long hours in the hospital. There is no evidence that surgical masks or cloth masks cause a significant build-up of carbon dioxide. This information has been primarily circulating on social media among individuals or communities resistant to mask-wearing in general.

“While masks are restrictive and can feel like they impede airflow, properly designed masks do allow air flow by design, and the feeling of inconvenience or minor discomfort does not equate to health risks such as a build-up of carbon dioxide. Inhaling high amounts of carbon dioxide can be dangerous and lead to hypercapnia (carbon dioxide toxicity), but is extremely unlikely to happen as a result of wearing a mask,” the doctors said.

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