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Do Masks Affect Your Breathing?

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Face masks have become mandatory in public places across the globe to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, it’s not uncommon to come across claims that face masks cause breathing problems and contribute to complications. Do they really affect your breathing and deplete the availability of oxygen? You’ll find out below.

Do face masks affect our lungs?

Although face masks are not pleasant to wear for some people, they are not depleting your availability to access oxygen. A study from the October 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that wearing nonmedical face masks doesn’t harm your breathing. In the study, 25 subjects self-measured peripheral oxygen saturation before, while, and after wearing a three-layer nonmedical mask.

All subjects were older adults, who are at a higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19 and more vulnerable to any decrease in oxygen levels from mask-wearing. They wore portable pulse oximeters, which measure blood oxygen levels. Scientists found no concerning signs of hypoxia, decreased oxygen levels. On average, oxygen saturation was 96.1% before participants wore a mask, 96.5% while they were wearing a mask, and 96.3% after wearing a nonmedical mask. The study confirmed that face masks are not dangerous.

That’s not the only study that confirmed wearing face masks doesn’t harm your lungs and breathing. One research focused on testing the effect of wearing surgical masks on gas exchange. Gas exchange is the process wherein the body adds oxygen to the blood while removing carbon dioxide. For more accurate results, the investigators enrolled 15 healthy physicians and 15 military veterans with severely impaired lungs. Findings revealed neither the healthy doctors nor the subjects with diseased lungs experienced major changes in the gas exchanged measurements after a six-minute fast-paced walking test.

Why do I feel discomfort when wearing a mask?

Some people do feel discomfort while wearing a face mask, but it’s not a sign of lowered oxygen levels or increased carbon dioxide. Instead, the discomfort you experience could result from irritation of sensitive facial nerves, warming inhaled air, or induced feelings of claustrophobia. Most people aren’t used to wearing face masks. The sensation of having a mask on the face could make someone uncomfortable and anxious.

Even though our breathing is unconscious and controlled by a respiratory center, our mind can also influence it. When we feel discomfort, even on a subconscious level, it can change the way we breathe. For example, if we think there’s no air, or that it’s difficult to breathe under a mask, we are susceptible to psychosomatic effects. These factors are not a source of concern, which is why you should always wear a mask in public to protect yourself and others.


Face masks do not reduce our oxygen levels, studies confirm. The discomfort we feel results from various factors, none of which are a source of concern. Take slower, longer breaths, and try to breathe through your nose to reduce the discomfort you experience. Make sure to wash reusable masks regularly and avoid wearing the same disposable mask multiple times.

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