Does wearing a mask lower your oxygen levels? We put the claims to the test

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Research shows that wearing a mask is one of the most effective methods people can take to help slow the spread of COVID-19, yet people worry that wearing a mask will lower oxygen levels and make it harder to breathe.

“It’s extremely unlikely that it would Brittany,” said Dr. Mark Lewis.

Dr. Mark Lewis is a medical oncologist and director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare. In an interview with ABC4’s Brittany Johnson, he said wearing a mask or face cover will not lower oxygen levels.

Some people who have asthma beg to differ. Those with the condition claim they cannot wear a face mask because it does in-fact lower their oxygen levels.

“The airways down here that are moving air within the lungs are getting very, very narrow,” Dr. Lewis explained through demonstration. “And that’s when people using inhalers, what that’s actually doing is opening up those airways. So the problem is not up here, okay? The problem is not at the mouth. The problem is down here. So my real point is having a mask covering your face and your mouth is not affecting airflow down in your lungs.”

Dr. Lewis posted a video to Twitter to further prove his point. He used 30 of his personal face masks, and put them on all at the same time, after an eight-hour shift, to show that his oxygen levels didn’t drop.

“People thought I was being silly. You know, these days to make a point, sometimes you have to be a little bit extreme. And again, I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had a history of cancer myself. I’ve had a blood clot in my lung. I’m not a perfectly healthy person and I was able to do it at altitude with no dropping oxygen.”

ABC4’s Brittany Johnson has asthma. She used an oximeter to measure her oxygen levels while not wearing a mask, wearing a surgical mask, a cloth mask, and a N95 mask. She measured her oxygen for five minutes in each scenario.”

“I did not see a significant decrease in my oxygen levels,” said Johnson.

“People with underlying chronic lung disease, such as COPD or asthma, should be able to wear a non-N95 facial covering without it affecting their oxygen or carbon dioxide levels,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association, told ABC News, adding that “masks have no detrimental effects, even in patients with chronic lung disease.”

“Remember, this is a real serious and potentially fatal illness, if it gets down into your lungs, so far from it, the mask being harmful, the mask is actually protecting you during the pandemic,” Dr. Lewis told ABC4 News.

Dr. Lewis said if your respiratory issues are severe, consider wearing a face shield instead of a mask.

If you can’t wear a face covering because of severe asthma or breathing distress, the Asthma Allergy Foundation of America recommends:

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Ask others to run errands or shop for you, or use delivery services if possible
  • When in public, keep a distance from others (physical distancing, about 6 feet)
  • Avoid or limit close contact with people who are sick, and wash your hands often
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible
  • Avoid travel that is not necessary
  • Clean and disinfect your home and car regularly, especially items you touch often
Brittany Johnson
Brittany prides herself on seeking the truth about everyday issues in the community and providing citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions.
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