Does wearing a face mask reduce oxygen supply?

Just like we wear our shoes before leaving our house, wearing a mask has become equally important due to the coronavirus pandemic

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Doctor
Picture: Pixabay

1 – ​Does wearing a face mask reduce oxygen supply? We tell you the truth

Have you also been getting those WhatsApp forwards, cautioning you about the dangers of wearing a face mask? Most likely yes. But does wearing a face mask for long really prove dangerous for your health? Such that it can turn fatal? Read ahead to put an end to all your questions.

2 – ​Wearing face mask

Just like we wear our shoes before leaving our house, wearing a mask has become equally important due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some people say wearing a face mask can reduce the intake of oxygen or can force one to inhale their own carbon dioxide. This can leave them to feel light-headed, smothered.

3 – The incident of driver passing out

A driver crashed his SUV into a pole in New Jersey on April 23 and blamed his collision on his mask. On interrogation, the driver told the police he passed out because he had been wearing mask an N95 for too long. The officers believed him and also posted on Facebook that he passed out due to insufficient oxygen/excessive carbon dioxide intake, warning other people.

The police department later cleared that they didn’t know “with 100 per cent certainty” that “excessive wearing” of N95 mask was the contributing factor for the accident. They stated that “it is certainly possible that some other medical reason could have contributed to the driver passing out.”

4 – Can mask cause the build-up of carbon dioxide?

Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of the respiration process, which is something that we breathe in and out every day. The question arises that is it possible that wearing a face mas can cause someone to build up so much carbon dioxide and get so little oxygen that they pass out or lead to worse outcomes?

5 – ​How harmful can be carbon dioxide?

According to the National Institutes of Health, in rare cases, it can be really dangerous. Inhaling high levels of carbon dioxide may be life-threatening. Hypercapnia, the carbon dioxide toxicity can cause headache, double vision, vertigo, difficulty in concentrate, seizures and suffocation due to the displacement of air.

6 – ​The concentration has to be high to cause toxicity

The concentration level of carbon dioxide has to be very high in order to really cause any harm. Around 0.4 per cent of carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere. To become dangerous the concentration has been to around 10 per cent.

Also read: Wearing masks at home can limit spread: Study

7 – ​Too little carbon dioxide can also be troublesome

It is also possible to have too little carbon dioxide, which happens when you exhale too often. When you hold your breath, you wind up with too much carbon dioxide.

8 – ​Role of carbon dioxide

The core issue is that carbon dioxide regulates the pH of the blood and too much carbon dioxide makes the blood too acidic, while too less of it can make the blood too alkaline. In both cases, your body can detect the changes in the acidity levels of blood, leading you to pass out.

9 – Can face masks be dangerous?

All face masks are not made equal. The extent to which a mask can affect carbon dioxide depends on what it is made of and how tightly you are wearing it.

It’s highly unlikely that you can pass out due to lack of oxygen while wearing a cloth mask, which in most cases doesn’t fit tightly on to your face. When you breathe, the air around the mask travels through pores in the material. It helps by disturbing your exhalation to protect those around you from aerosols in your breath.

Experts doubt that any cloth face mask can ever fit against the face so tight that someone can pass out due to lack of oxygen. In fact, most of us take it off before it becomes too uncomfortable.

An expert says, wearing N95 mask for a prolonged period may have alterations in their blood chemistry that can change the level of consciousness, if severe. This is most likely to happen in those who already have breathing difficulties due to smoking, obesity, COPD or asthma.

Any mask including the N95 has not shown to cause carbon dioxide toxicity in healthy people. Breathing becomes harder with a mask, thus people with existing breathing problems must be careful while wearing a face mask.

10 – ​The verdict

The N95 mask might be uncomfortable and restrictive and may affect your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels if worn for very long hours, but remember they are primarily for frontline workers. Talking about cloth mask, there are very little chances of breathing issues. Just make sure to cover your mouth properly and the mask should be well fitted, while ensuring that it does not suffocate you.

A mask is not like a plastic bag, which completely traps the air inside. The tiny carbon dioxide that we breathe in and out is not trapped in both cloth or a surgical mask. Though the N95 mask can sometimes make it difficult to breathe for people suffering from certain health conditions. This is because one has to breathe harder to get enough air and not because of the build-up of carbon dioxide.

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