Fact-Check: Do Masks Cause CO2 Toxicity in Your Body?
A campaign named ‘Burn the Mask, Get Freedom’ is making dangerous and unscientific claims.
Around Independence Day, a video in which a group of 5 young Indians are seen burning face masks went viral on social media. The youth in the video claim wearing a mask is ineffective against COVID-19 and say that it increases carbon dioxide poisoning in the body.
This condition is called hypercapnia or hypercarbia.
Apart from this video, we saw a similar trend on social media wherein people are nominating each other to burn masks and make a video doing it. Many of these videos are still available on YouTube. In these videos, the coronavirus has been described as a government conspiracy. A campaign named 'Burn the Mask, Get Freedom' had been designed.
But Are these Claims About Masks True?
Can wearing a mask cause hypercarbia or other respiratory diseases? FIT reached out to the experts.
Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee of Lung Care Foundation, told FIT that when masks are worn continuously for 8 hours, especially N95 or N99 masks, there is a 2–4% marginal increase in carbon dioxide levels. This can happen to doctors who perform surgery, who work with an extra layer of surgical mask above the N95. But if a common person uses a triple layer mask or surgical mask, then there will be no such risk.
Dr Richa Sarin, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine Consultant at Fortis Hospital explains it this way-
The mask that regular public uses is not air tight or sealed. It is not that the CO2 you are releasing through your breath is not going out.
These masks prevent aerosols and virus from going in or out. But the carbon dioxide molecules are much smaller in size and can go out easily through a mask.
So far there have been reports of hypercarbia caused by wearing masks. Masks are being used more during the time of COVID, but apart from this, surgeons have been using masks for hours in the hospital. If this were true, a large number of surgeons would have suffered from hypercarbia.
The video also claimed that masks are not effective against COVID-19. Dr Arvind Kumar says that hundreds of researches have been done worldwide on the role a mask plays in the prevention of the spread of coronavirus.
Masks Are Essential to Fight Against COVID-19
Dr Kumar explains by example, "If I am infected and sitting across a table from a healthy person while wearing an N95 mask, 95% of my aerosol stays inside the mask. Even though 5% escapes, its velocity is less and it falls down as it escapes the mask. It will not reach the person sitting at a distance of 1 meter. If the person in front of me is also wearing a mask then it is safer because the viral particle will stop on the surface of his mask. Surgical masks and cloth masks offer similar protection but the degree is reduced. ”
He says that this is why the healthcare workers are advised to wear N95 masks, because the number of infected people around them can be high.
Can Masks do an Harm?
Dr Sarin says that one might feel uncomfortable wearing a mask but there can be no danger. Those who have bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung weakness may have difficulty in breathing.
Dr Kumar says that running and exercising while wearing a mask can cause problems, so doctors do not advise wearing masks during that time. While running or exercising, the body’s need for oxygen increases as the production of carbon dioxide inside the body increases.
Usually we breathe 14-16 times in a minute. It goes up to 35 when exercising or running fast. Sometimes this rate can go up to 45. The body needs to regulate itself to maintain its oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
“The application of a mask brings resistance to the gas exchange. In such a situation, sufficient oxygen will not be able to enter and carbon dioxide retention can occur within 15 minutes. Whereas under normal conditions, there is a possibility of such a situation if the mask is applied continuously for 6-8 hours. While running, the body needs extra oxygen and the extra carbon dioxide needs to be removed, making the mask a mechanical barrier. So wearing mask in that situation can be dangerous. “Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee of Lung Care Foundation
In the YouTube video posted with the title 'Burn the mask, get freedom', it was claimed that wearing a mask reduces immunity and creates a lack of oxygen. Dr Arvind completely dismisses this and says that there is no scientific basis for this claim.
There was also an appeal to print and distribute flyers in the video description. However, the video has now been removed from YouTube. The viral group video has also been removed from social media. But several other videos making similar claims are still uploaded on Youtube.
In this video, it was said that no such study has been conducted wherein a scientific comparison has been done in two groups of people - with one set wearing masks and the other not wearing masks, to prove their efficacy against coronavirus.
Dr Sarin calls it absurd and says that such a study cannot be done because such a risk cannot be taken with the health of a person. Ethical clearance and consent are necessary for a study. Studies are done for welfare of the people, not for their harm.
Dr Kumar says that mass wearing of masks is a reason for the low rate spread in a country like Japan, Korea. Protection through masks is proven and verified.
Therefore, it is important to put a stop to such misleading videos.
“Until an effective vaccine comes out and is applied to the public and mass antibodies are produced, social distancing, masks and hand hygiene are the best and most effective protection against the coronavirus. "
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