Wearing face masks will not cause CO2 poisoning -- experts

Health experts have debunked claims that the wearing of face masks for an extended period of time may lead to hypercapnia or carbon dioxide (CO2)  retention or poisoning. 

A man wearing a face mask walks along a street of Havana, on July 29, 2020. - Cuba has 2588 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 87 deceased. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)
A man wearing a face mask walks along a street of Havana, on July 29, 2020. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

In order to help contain the spread of the virus, people around the world are advised to wear masks or face coverings. But some have claimed that wearing face masks for an extended period of time will cause insufficient oxygen intake and may even poison users with excess carbon dioxide (CO2).

Experts clarified that the wearing of face masks, facial coverings, or even N95 respirators for healthcare workers, poses no risk to healthy people. 

"There is no risk of hypercapnia (CO2 retention) in healthy adults who use face coverings, including medical and cloth face masks, as well as N95s," Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, said in an interview with Healthline, an American website based in San Francisco, California, and provider of health information.

"Carbon dioxide molecules freely diffuse through the masks, allowing normal gas exchanges while breathing," Glatter added. 

According to Darrell Spurlock, director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University, there is no concern that wearing surgical or cloth masks may retain CO2.

"The dose of CO2 we might rebreathe while masking is quickly and easily eliminated by both the respiratory and metabolic systems in the body," Spurlock said. 

"CO2 is present in the atmosphere at a level of about 0.04 percent. It is dangerous in an atmosphere when it is greater than about 10 percent," Bill Carroll, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington, was quoted in a report from Xinhua.

If users feel uncomfortable while wearing masks, try to limit talking and breathe through the nose which can help reduce the humidity level in the mask, according to a report from Mayo Clinic. 

The experts said people who have severe lung disease or sleep apnea need to consider the use of masks and better to consult with doctors.

Spurlock explained that someone with severe lung disease and is struggling to maintain oxygenation and balanced CO2 due to lung damage "may be more sensitive to CO2 levels". (With a report from Xinhua)

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