No, Face Masks Don’t Lower Oxygen Levels

By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, November 3, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Face masks: Yes, they might not be the most comfortable item to wear, but they don’t deprive people of needed oxygen, a new study confirms.

The results should counter a common anti-mask myth – that wearing a face mask is unhealthy.

Claims that masks reduce oxygen supplies, cause carbon dioxide “poisoning” and weaken the immune system have gained steam, fueled in part by social media.

At the same time, medical authorities – including the World Health Organization and the American Lung Association – have issued statements to debunk these myths. But the claims persist.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada set out to test this notion: they gave 25 adults (average age: 76.5 years) portable pulse oximeters to measure their blood oxygen levels while wearing a face mask, as well as before and after.

Investigators found no signs of concern of hypoxia or reduced oxygen in the blood.

Of course, “this confirms what we already knew,” said Dr Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist who was not involved in the study. “There is no decrease in oxygen by wearing a mask.”

Some people may feel uncomfortable wearing a mask, noted Glatt, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. But that’s no excuse not to do it, he says.

“I look at masks like seat belts,” Glatt said. “They’re not necessarily comfortable, but they protect you.”

For the study, Dr. Noel Chan’s team outfitted each participant with three-layer, disposable, non-medical face masks. Volunteers wore them during their normal daily routine, or at rest, and used the pulse oximeter to track their oxygen levels for an hour before wearing the mask, while wearing it for an hour and for an hour after.

Overall, there was no worrying drop in blood oxygen saturation. On average, oxygen saturation was 96.1% before participants masked themselves, then slightly higher when wearing masks, and after – at 96.5% and 96.3%, respectively.

The findings were published online as a research letter in the October 30 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

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