Can Face Masks Cause Health Problems?

Get the short answer from a pulmonologist
woman wearing mask worrying about health

Q: We’ve seen social media posts that speak to masks affecting our health in negative ways. Should we be concerned?

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A: There can be behavioral reasons (young children, psychiatric illness, autism, claustrophobia, etc.) for why individuals might not tolerate a mask or not understand the reason for wearing one. This is especially true with small children. When it comes to them, the CDC doesn’t recommend putting masks on children under the age of two because they aren’t capable of removing them and they could suffocate. 

At the Respiratory Institute, we’ve taken the position that there is virtually no circumstance that warrants an exemption from wearing a mask based on lung disease. Exceptions come along with the risk of individuals endangering themselves and everyone around them. But we have a collective responsibility to make sure that we are not placing our community in harm’s way.

Many patients with significant respiratory issues are able to wear masks without difficulty. Even patients on the lung transplant waiting list who arguably have the severest forms of advanced lung disease are able to wear masks. If they can do it, anybody can.

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As for CO2 retention, I have not seen any evidence for it with any mask type, including N95 masks. It certainly does not apply to cloth masks or any masks that do not provide a tight seal. 

⚊ Pulmonologist Raed Dweik, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute

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