Asthma and Wearing a Mask
As the world continues to deal with COVID-19, there is still a lot we do not know. Researchers have found that the virus is spread mainly from contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. The droplets from sneezing, coughing, or even talking are transmittable from one person to another.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that most people over the age of 2 wear a mask when in public, especially when physical distancing is hard.
The theory behind the mask recommendation is that the mask may create a barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from getting into the air and onto someone else. Some research has indicated that people may spread the virus if they are asymptomatic. But if you have breathing problems, such as asthma, how can you wear a mask safely? Here we talk about the health concerns surrounding asthma and wearing a mask.
How Can Wearing a Mask Affect People With Asthma?
Mask-wearing may affect people with asthma differently. For some people, it may not cause any problems. But for others, it may make them work harder to breathe to pull air into the lungs. It can also increase breathlessness faster, especially during activity. The effect a mask has on someone with asthma depends on a few factors, such as the severity of their disease, the type of mask they choose and the environment they are in.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, some people with severe asthma, including frequent flare-ups that require lots of medication, might have some issues wearing a mask. But for most people with mild and well-controlled asthma, wearing a mask is generally well-tolerated.
Although wearing a mask, if you have asthma, maybe uncomfortable, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), if worn correctly, a medical mask should not lead to carbon dioxide retention or oxygen deficiency.
Types of Masks
Different types of masks and face coverings are used by the public during the COVID pandemic:
This mask is considered a medical device and is used to prevent exposure to droplets that may remain in the air. Healthcare workers are fit-tested to ensure a proper fit for protection.
A surgical mask is considered a procedural mask in healthcare facilities. It does not fit as snugly as an N95.
Cloth masks may be made from different materials, such as polyester and cotton. It is not known the level of protection that cloth masks have for preventing COVID-19 specifically, but the theory is cloth masks likely block some droplets from getting into the air resulting in a lower transmission rate.
Bandanas tied around the nose and mouth and neck fleeces are also used by some as face coverings, but their efficiency is not clear.
Risks and Safety Precautions
Although masks are recommended for most people, there are risks and safety precautions someone with asthma should consider. If your asthma is severe, wearing a mask when having symptoms may make an asthma attack worse.
If you have asthma, especially if it is persistent, there are certain safety precautions to consider:
- Talk with your doctor. It’s best to follow your doctor’s health advice regarding wearing a mask and asthma.
- Use caution outdoors. If you are outdoors and can maintain physical distancing, usually masks are not required. Keep in mind: hot, humid weather can trigger asthma in some people. If asthma symptoms become worse in hot weather, and you need to wear a mask, try to go out during the early morning if you can when temperatures are lower.
- Access your breathing. The WHO recommends wearing a mask that allows you to breathe comfortably when walking briskly and talking.
- Change the mask if it gets wet. Sweat can make a mask wet and more difficult to breathe in, especially if you have asthma. It also promotes the growth of microorganisms.
- Be careful when exercising. According to WHO, individuals should not wear a mask when exercising, as it can decrease your ability to breathe comfortably. People who have asthma, especially exercise-induced asthma, may have increased problems masking during exercise. Since some states have mandated masks at the gym, consider exercising at home or outdoors.
- Avoid wearing a mask if in respiratory distress. If you are having trouble breathing, remove the mask.
Occupational asthma can be developed when irritants are inhaled on the job. Jobs at risk include construction, painting and farming.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, there is no conclusive evidence that wearing a mask makes asthma worse. But it can make people with asthma feel they cannot get enough air in, leading to:
- Increased breathlessness
- Increased sweating
How Can a Person Who Has Asthma Wear a Mask?
- Consider the setting. If possible, limit masking in hot, humid weather outside.
- Try different masks. If one material constricts breathing, consider trying a mask made from something different, such as 100% cotton.
- Take breaks. If possible, maintain physical distancing and take a break from wearing a mask to get fresh air.
- Take asthma medication as prescribed. Controlling asthma by following your asthma action plan may prevent a flare-up of symptoms and make it easier to wear a mask.
Who Is Restricted From Wearing a Mask Due to Asthma?
It’s best to follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to wearing a mask. In general, the CDC does not recommend masks for:
- Children under 2 years old
- Anyone who cannot remove the mask on their own
- Someone who is having trouble breathing
It is also advisable to not wear a mask if you are having an asthma attack and experiencing shortness of breath or are in respiratory distress.
Other Ways to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19
Wearing a mask is only one way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is not the only thing you can do. The CDC recommends maintaining at least 6 feet distance from people who are not in your household. Make sure to stay home if you are sick and wash your hands often and thoroughly