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Wearing face mask can cause over-exposure to carbon dioxide and breathlessness: Is it true?

High-quality cloth or medical masks of plain design work better in helping prevent the spread of the virus, say researchers.

If you feel breathlessness while wearing face masks, it is not because of alterations in gas exchange or over-exposure to carbon dioxide, but due to the restriction of airflow, says a new study.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : October 5, 2020 9:28 AM IST

In an attempt to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, several governments across the world have made wearing face masks mandatory in public spaces. Many experts say that wearing a facial covering can help curb the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the wearer's risk of catching the virus. But some people discourage the regular use of masks, claiming that it may cause overexposure to carbon dioxide and pose health risks. Is it true?

Not really! Face masks are unlikely to cause overexposure to carbon dioxide, even in patients with lung disease, says a new study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

To come to the conclusion, the researchers assessed problems associated with changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in healthy individuals and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) before and while using surgical masks. The effects were found to be minimal at most even in people with very severe lung impairment.

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Do you feel breathlessness while wearing masks? Here's the reason

Some healthy people may experience dyspnea -- or the feeling of shortness of breath -- while wearing masks but that is not due to alterations in gas exchange. It likely occurs from the restriction of airflow with the mask in particular when higher ventilation is needed (on exertion), the researchers explained.

For example, you may experience feelings of breathlessness if you're walking briskly up an incline or wearing an overly tight mask.

The solution to this problem is to slow down or remove the mask if you're at a safe distance from other people, the researchers suggested.

"The public should not believe that masks kill," PTI quoted study co-author Michael Campos from the University of Miami as saying.

Wearing a face mask is important to prevent Covid-19 infection

The researchers suggest wearing a surgical mask or a cloth mask with at least two layers during the COVID-19 pandemic as it is also recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is more important for people with lung disease to wear a face mask as they are more likely to get severely ill once they get infected with Covid-19. In addition, people should also regularly wash their hands and practice social distancing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

There was no effect of surgical masks on relevant physiological changes in gas exchange under routine circumstances (prolonged rest, brief walking), the scientists wrote in the study.

Still, wondering how to choose the right mask? Choose the ones made from non-woven fabric as they are more effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19 via airborne respiratory droplets than other types that are commonly available. This has been proved by the world's fastest supercomputer, called Fugaku, in Japan.

Non-woven masks are disposable medical masks made from polypropylene. These masks blocked nearly all droplets emitted in a cough, according to experts at Riken, a government-backed research institute in the western city of Kobe.

Using Fugaku, the researchers conducted simulations involving three types of masks and found that non-woven masks were better than those made of cotton and polyester at blocking spray emitted when the wearer coughs.

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