Our knowledge about face masks continues to evolve as the current pandemic drags on. On what seems to be a daily basis, there is such a deluge of information that it can be difficult to gauge its trustworthiness. Obviously, not all sources are reliable, accurate, and objective. Many people are asking, “Are face masks safe?” Some claim that masks can even be dangerous to use. Does what they say have any merit? Let's take a closer look at the facts.
What the CDC Says
The official consensus among health and medical experts is that face masks can help prevent the transmission of certain viruses and bacteria. According to the CDC, “masks are a critical preventive measure and are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult,” while allowing that “wearing masks may not be possible in every situation or for some people.”
Those for whom wearing a mask may not be advisable are those who have trouble breathing, anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove a mask without help. In such cases, wearing a mask may “exacerbate a physical or mental health condition, lead to a medical emergency, or introduce significant safety concerns.”
The CDC also advises that working in a setting with safety concerns due to higher temperatures, machinery that can pull and catch at masks, or other potential hazards can make mask wearing less safe. Workers should check with an occupational safety and health professional to determine what masks are suitable for their site. When working outside, they can remove their masks, unless social distancing is not possible.
High intensity activities, like running and other forms of exercise, may make breathing difficult while wearing a mask. If unable to wear a mask, you should exercise outside, or where there is more ventilation and where you can maintain physical distance from others. Also, when a face mask becomes wet or damp, clogging the holes in its fabric, breathing becomes more difficult and the mask should be replaced.
Young children should be provided with masks that fit properly, and given proper guidance and reminders about the importance of wearing them. The CDC does not recommend masks for children younger than two years old.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing—and those whom they interact with by lipreading rather than signing—should consider using a clear mask, written communication, or closed captioning on digital devices. Some people, such as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and mental health conditions, should consult with their medical providers for further advice.
Face Mask Facts About Oxygen and CO2
Facial masks commonly worn by the public are porous, and not worn for extended periods. Posts on social media claiming that wearing a facial mask can result in hypoxia are false. What about carbon dioxide poisoning? Highly unlikely. As for medical masks, also called surgical masks, the WHO states that wearing them “does not lead to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency. While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not reuse a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp.”
Carbon dioxide molecules, which are quite tiny, are not blocked by breathable material. The CO2 you exhale is unlikely to build up to unsafe levels. Surgeons wear much heavier-duty masks all day without harmful effects.
Boomer Naturals offers soft, reusable, lightweight masks with an inner hydrophilic layer, a middle filter layer, and an outer hydrophobic layer. They come in child and adult sizes made of a 65% cotton/35% polyester blend, are comfortable enough for daily wear, easy to breathe and talk through, and can be washed 30 times.
If you cannot wear a mask, make sure to use other recommended methods to prevent the spread of disease, including social distancing, frequent hand washing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. It's all about decreasing your exposure as much as possible. Until a safe and effective vaccine or cure is developed, such preventive measures are our best defense.