Breathe easy. A new study suggests that surgical face masks don’t cause a buildup of carbon dioxide or restrict oxygen, despite opposing claims.
The study, on the “Effect of Face Masks on Gas Exchange in Healthy Persons and Patients with COPD,” which was published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society on Friday, was conducted after a group of Florida residents challenged Florida’s mask-wearing mandate in June, arguing that wearing the protective face coverings could result in the buildup of too much carbon dioxide.
Researchers led by Dr. Michael Campos, a pulmonologist with the Miami VA Medical Center and the University of Miami Hospital and Clinics, looked at problems with changes in oxygen levels or carbon dioxide levels in healthy individuals and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) before and while wearing surgical masks.
The small study included 15 military veterans with severe COPD, each with lung function under 50%, and 15 healthy participants. All participants wore masks for 30 minutes and were told to walk for six minutes while wearing the surgical masks. Researchers then gave each participant a blood test and discovered there were no differences in levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide.
“This data find that gas exchange is not significantly affected by the use of surgical mask, even in subjects with severe lung impairment,” Campos said in the study.
Campos urged that wearing a mask to prevent coronavirus infection is vital, particularly for those with lung disease, in addition to social distancing and handwashing to reduce the spread.
“It is important to inform the public that the discomfort associated with mask use should not lead to unsubstantiated safety concerns as this may attenuate the application of a practice proven to improve public health,” the authors wrote.
A number of other studies on the new coronavirus have shown that mask-wearing can help prevent infected individuals from spreading COVID-19 to others, as well as protect those who are wearing them from exposure to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that people wear masks in public and when around people who don’t live in the same household, writing that masks prevent respiratory droplets — like those produced when someone coughs, sneezes or talks — from being spread to others, decreasing the potential spread of COVID-19.
“Masks with exhalation valves or vents should NOT be worn to help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others,” the CDC added on its site.