As face masks have become mandatory in many places to limit the spread of coronavirus, it's also become an increasingly politicized thing. As we know, anything that involves political polarization also involves vast amounts of misinformation and disinformation. Whose idea was the internet again?
No one I know loves wearing a mask. We all wish we didn't have to. But there are an awful lot of people saying they can't wear one, or they refuse to wear one because they've been led to believe that masks are somehow more dangerous than not wearing one. I've seen and read "information" on everything from masks depriving people of oxygen to masks causing CO2 build up to masks creating fungus problems.
We have to be wary of where we get our information from. Thankfully, there are true experts out there to set the record straight.
Like many physicians, Dr. Gloria Guptill has been fighting COVID-19 myths on social media. Recently, she did an experiment with three masks at once to dispel the myth that masks deprive people of oxygen.
"Need a medical excuse not to wear a mask? You can't breathe with it?
Actually, YOU CAN breathe. As an experiment, I wore a cloth mask, surgical mask AND N95 mask, one on top of the other, for the first thirty minutes of my day today. And guess what... my oxygen level is 99%, same as without it. Yes, it was hot and a tad uncomfortable but I survived. I wear a mask ALL day and I am just fine. You can do it too.
I have heard every excuse under the sun why some people don't want to wear masks. I have gotten requests to write notes excusing patients from wearing masks to work, on a plane or wherever because they 'can't breathe.' I get it- it's summer and it's hot. They are uncomfortable. We aren't use to it. I don't disagree. Wearing a mask is about you protecting others. I get it- you feel fine but as we all know, you can spread the virus while feeling just fine and the person(s) you give it to may not have it so easy. There isn't a medical condition that excuses you from wearing a mask. If you truly feel that your condition limits your ability to wear one, please call your doctor. If you have asthma or COPD, you should really be staying home as much as possible and these conditions are all the more reason TO wear a mask. Pick a comfortable mask that is fit well for you and wear it correctly. A mask that doesn't correctly fit your face can be more uncomfortable then it needs to be. Find a mask made from moisture wicking and breathable fabric. A three layer cloth mask is best for being out and about. They work. When you breathe, droplets from your mouth and nose spread about 6 feet. The mask contains these droplets.
Unless you are under 2 years old, are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help, you need to wear a mask.
Surgical and fabric masks do not add resistance while inhaling. They simply decrease droplet spread. Mask do not effect respiratory mechanics. If you feel you can't breathe, you need a new mask. If you truly can't find one that is comfortable and you MUST go out, wear a face shield that drops down below your chin. Theoretically, since the mask is acting as a shield not a filter (only N95 can also filter), the shield should also stop the droplets from being dispersed. There isn't any data on shield vs. mask currently. Masks should contain the droplets better though.
The bottom line: Wear your mask, you can breathe. Sorry it's not as comfortable as without it, but a ventilator is a whole lot more uncomfortable. Do it for others. We have to.
Have a great day!
Gloria Guptill, M.D."
The good doctor also answered some questions in the comments and added some additional information. This is about CO2 build-up:
"Carbon dioxide molecules freely diffuse through the masks, allowing normal gas exchange while breathing. Ask ANY board certified physician in America and they will tell you rebreathing tiny amounts of CO2 from wearing either properly fitted N95 respirators or more loosely fitted cloth or surgical masks is of no concern. Way before the conspiracy theorists, medical providers have worn surgical or cloth masks for 12 hour surgeries without retaining CO2. The CO2 molecule is so small it doesn't accumulate behind the mask AND EVEN IF IT DID, it is easily eliminated by both the respiratory and metabolic systems in the body. Read a Human physiology textbook for more information. We learned this the first year of med school."
A commenter claimed that they had blood work done while wearing a mask and that it showed elevated CO2 levels. She responded by saying: "CO2 is often/usually elevated on blood work because most people hold their breath a little when it is being drawn. This isn't due to the mask."
One commenter claimed that his O2 level went from 92 without a mask to 49 with a mask, to which Dr. Guptill pointed out that he would be comatose if his blood oxygen really got that low. So probably a broken pulse oximeter (or a broken sense of reality—but that's my take, not the doctors).
She also clarified what each mask actually does.
"N95 masks are the only masks that can protect you from Aerosolization, which is why physicians intubating COVID-19 patients need to wear them. Cloth masks contain your droplets inside the mask so you wearing one protects others. The cloth mask you wear doesn't protect you. Your mask protects others and their masks protect you..."
Just like if two little boys are running around naked and they pee, their pee is going to get on each other. If they're both wearing pants, the pee stays contained to their pants. Wearing pants keeps pee from going on other people, but doesn't keep non-pants-wearing-people's pee from getting on them. We're only all protected if we all wear pants. Same idea with masks. It only really works if all of us do it.
Some people feel like they can't breathe because of claustrophobia or anxiety, but that can be remedied by practicing wearing masks for a few minutes at a time and building up a tolerance.
If you truly have a breathing condition that makes it impossible for you to wear a mask, then wear a face shield—but also consider not going places if possible, because if you can't breathe in a mask, you definitely don't want to get COVID-19.
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