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How masks and respirators affect immunity and oxygen levels in the blood

Studies have shown that wearing a mask is one of the most effective methods to slow the spread of coronavirus, writes CNBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

However, mask myths flood social networks: people worry that wearing masks will lower oxygen levels or lead to carbon dioxide poisoning. Others fear that they will develop bacterial infections due to sweat-covered wet masks, or that the immune system will decrease in resistance.

Health workers tried to dispel these misconceptions on social networks. A doctor from South Carolina challenged the idea that "oxygen levels drop sharply when wearing a mask." Dr. Megan Hall checked her oxygen saturation and heart rate with a pulse oximeter in four situations, 5 minutes at a time: no mask, surgical mask, N95 respirator mask, N95 mask and surgical mask.

“There is no significant change in oxygen saturation (or heart rate) in either scenario. While it may be uncomfortable for some, you can still breathe, ”she shared on Facebook.

Exposing Myths

Wearing a mask remains a safe and effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19. Masks work by filtering and suppressing air particles.

If someone is infected but has no symptoms, during breathing, pathogenic particles from the mouth, nose, and back of the throat go outside and spread within about 6 feet (1,8 meters). The mask prevents the free flow of some particles and pushes part of the air down rather than forward.

“Normal, healthy people can do some pretty energetic things while wearing the masks we're talking about in the context of COVID prevention,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "If they were harmful, they would not be recommended by the CDC, state or local health departments."

Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said that if the masks were dangerous, there would be much more cases of nurses and doctors in the operating room.

“I don’t see them dropping dead due to lack of oxygen or too much carbon dioxide,” he said.

Kirsten Köhler, associate professor of environmental health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, agreed with him.

“Scientific research shows that there are no really important changes in CO2 levels or oxygen levels even from wearing surgical masks. And cloth masks are better for gases, she explained. “It doesn't bother me at all. People are more likely to feel hot when wearing a mask, so they may just feel overheated. "

On the subject: Protection against coronavirus, dust and allergens: how effective are masks of different types

Schaffner suspects that people are worried about wearing masks because it is difficult to breathe.

“If they wear masks correctly, it is really a little harder to breathe. But that just means the mask acts like a filter, Schaffner said. "If you have to inhale and exhale from the filter, it takes a little more work."

Some say they cannot wear a mask because of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, although experts suspect that many with impaired lung function, on the contrary, are more likely to wear masks.

“The vast majority of people with true lung disease will wear a mask because they know that if they are exposed to this virus, they have a very high risk of serious complications,” Sullivan said. "Yes, sometimes when they are wearing a mask it can be a little difficult (to breathe)."

Although in warm weather the mask may become wet from sweat, it should not cause bacterial infections.

"There is no evidence for this," Schaffner said. - In the hot, humid air of summer, the mask can become wet and nasty. If you have it in fabric, wash it. A new surgical mask should be used. "

Koehler recommends putting wet cloth masks in paper bags so they dry and wash them every day before use or wear a fresh, disposable one.

Concerning whether masks can compromise the immune system, Schaffner said: "This is a fiction."

Sullivan said that the immune system works at the expense of immune memory, which occurs when the body encounters a bacterium or virus and responds to them. But masks do not interfere with this process.

“I can pretty much guarantee that wearing the mask intermittently throughout the day or even throughout the day will not weaken your immune system,” he said.

The real reason many people don’t want to wear masks

The most common reason people don't want to wear a mask is psychological. And the experts understand this. Masks are uncomfortable.

“I’m not going to deny it can be awkward,” Sullivan confirmed.

Koehler said that is why experts are the first to recommend social distance and hand washing.

“We categorize masks in the category of products we call personal protection, and the mask is the last one on the list. After all, most of us now admit that she is really uncomfortable, ”she said.

On the subject: In Florida, a buyer who did not want to wear a mask had a fight with a Walmart employee

People in Western countries are simply not used to wearing them.

“This is clearly not a social norm,” Schaffner said.

To some extent this has become a political issue, which is why some people are less likely to wear them. But experts emphasize that the virus is not concerned with politics.

“The coronavirus happily infects everyone,” Schaffner said.

Sullivan agrees.

“The virus doesn't care about culture wars and doesn't care about your freedom,” he said. "To wear a mask means to be human, to take care of one's fellows and to respect all people."

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Nine times infectious: a new strain of coronavirus is spreading in the US and Europe

Last warning: the airline will issue yellow cards to unmasked passengers

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