Myths busted: Using face masks can cause oxygen deficiency, infections


Myths busted: Using face masks can cause oxygen deficiency, infections

If you use social media, you may have seen viral posts suggesting that wearing face masks or coverings can cause lung infections, carbon dioxide toxicity or oxygen deficiency.
Posts making such claims have been circulating in a variety of forms. One post, for example, claims that a healthy 19-year-old grocery store clerk suffered from a lung infection caused by wearing a face mask. Another claims masks quickly “clog up,” become heavily infected with germs and are subsequently worse than wearing no mask.
“Although these posts may be emotionally stirring, there’s no evidence to support them,” says Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “It’s always important to consider the source of information you are receiving, and that’s especially true when it comes to medical information.”

The claims

For example, he says, breathing in your own exhaled air would not lead, as some posts claim, to a new infection. If you are breathing out viral or bacterial particles, that means you are already infected with the virus or bacteria. The masks are designed to limit transmission of respiratory droplets between people, the primary means of spreading COVID-19. 

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Plus, he says, there’s no evidence to suggest that people who wear face masks are at risk for hypercapnia, which is when too much carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, or oxygen deficiency.
“In the medical and scientific fields, we wear face masks for extended periods of time with no ill effects,” Dr. Harmon says. “Although wearing a mask can be uncomfortable at times, there’s simply no evidence to suggest that it is unsafe when you follow the proper precautions.”

Safety is important

Of course, he says, it’s important to follow safety guidelines because there are situations where face masks should not be used, such as by children under the age of 2, by people who have trouble breathing or individuals unable to remove the mask without help.
Otherwise, he says, it’s critical to wear face masks or cloth face coverings in situation where social distancing is not feasible, such as the grocery store or pharmacy.
At Tidelands Health, face coverings or masks are required at all of the health system’s 60-plus care locations as part of the not-for-profit organization’s “Safe in Our Care” commitment, a series of extra precautions put in place to protect patients and reassure them it’s safe to get the medical care they need.
“Wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing and washing your hands regularly clearly help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Harmon says. “When wearing a face covering, be sure it fits snugly and securely and be sure to wash your hands immediately after handling it.”

Meet the Expert

Dr. Gerald Harmon

Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.

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