Does Wearing a Face Mask Limit Your Oxygen Intake?

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
woman wearing mask shopping for oranges

Researchers at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital published new findings recently that wearing a face mask -- either a cloth mask or a surgical mask -- did not impair the ability of study participants to get air in and out of their bodies.

The study measured heart rate, transcutaneous carbon dioxide tension and oxygen levels in 50 adult volunteers at the conclusion of six 10-minute phases:

  • Sitting quietly and then walking briskly without a mask
  • Sitting quietly and then walking briskly while wearing a cloth mask
  • Sitting quietly and then walking briskly while wearing a surgical mask

The median age of the participants was 33 years and 32 percent of participants indicated they have a chronic health condition such as asthma.

Abnormal Levels Risk Is Near Zero

In the study, not a single participant developed a low level of oxygen or high level of carbon dioxide in the blood while wearing a cloth or surgical mask either at rest or during exercise.

The risk to the general adult population of having significantly abnormal levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide when wearing a cloth or surgical mask is near zero, says Steven L. Shein, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

"We know face masks help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but we also know people have concerns of discomfort or impaired breathing while wearing them," Dr. Shein says. "Our hope is these findings will reassure people that their body is able to adequately get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out while wearing a face covering."

The study,The Effects of Wearing Facemasks on Oxygenation and Ventilation at Rest and During Physical Activity, was published in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was supported financially by UH Rainbow Department of Pediatrics.

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UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s dedicated team of more than 1,300 pediatric specialists uses the most advanced treatments and latest innovations to deliver the complete range of pediatric specialty services for 750,000 patient encounters each year. Learn more about UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital or find a pediatrician close to home.

 

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