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Trust Index: Can masks increase CO2 levels?

HOUSTON – There’s a lot of claims online that masks can decrease your oxygen level. Some stories even describe how people have fainted wearing masks or worse. Is this true?

This is what we found when putting the claims up to our trust index.

Can masks kill?

Healthcare workers’ shifts are an average of 12 hours and they wear masks all day long. Any claims that masks can kill are just bogus and have never been proven.

Can it increase the carbon dioxide you breathe in?

No. Wearing a regular cloth or surgical mask will not increase CO2 levels.

“There’s no real evidence that it can increase CO2 levels in healthy subjects. There’s actually been studies looking at if you retain CO2 when you walk with an N95 mask in healthcare workers, and there’s really no evidence that it increases CO2 retention,” said Infectious Disease Specialist with UT Health, Rodrigo Hasbun, MD.

Hasbun said the only exception for someone who could be hurt by a mask would be people with lung disease (like emphysema or COPD) specifically, he says, they should not wear an N95 mask.

However, he said nobody outside of healthcare workers needs to be wearing an N95 mask anyway.

“Surgical masks or cloth masks are definitely preferred because they’re more comfortable and you can have some air coming in and out instead of the N95 that’s really more tight and can give you more sensation that you’re being asphyxiated by the mask but in reality, studies in healthy healthcare workers show that there’s no increased levels of CO2,” Hasbun said.

Why do I feel panicked when I wear one?

Psychologist William Orme from Houston Methodist said feelings of restriction or panic while wearing masks is possibly more because of anxiety and not due to different oxygen levels. The feeling of restriction on your face can lead to anxiety.

“It’s still important to follow the guidelines,” Orme advised. “What are ways you can manage symptoms of anxiety? Is there anything that can make it more tolerable for you?”

Hasbun said it’s actually more important now than ever to keep up social distancing and wear masks because businesses are reopening and the number of coronavirus cases is not declining.