HuffPost UK reader Helen asked: “What is the damage to your health by wearing masks?
There’s very little evidence that wearing face masks – we’re talking the blue surgical ones and cloth coverings that most of the public are wearing – is harmful to your health.
“This is one of those areas where conspiracy theories and science conflict,” Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, tells HuffPost UK.
Some social media posts suggest mask-wearing could lead to hypoxia, a dangerous condition when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. There are even extreme claims floating about that mask-wearing could lead to death.
One cause for confusion is the difference between surgical masks and cloth coverings, and the N95 respirators that are designed for use in healthcare settings – we need to differentiate between them as their health impacts vary.
With ordinary face coverings and surgical masks, there is very little to worry about in terms of risk to health.
“Probably the most common issue is irritation and occasionally dermatitis,” says Prof Hunter. “I do not think there is any real evidence for these face coverings and masks interfering with adequate breathing.”
How to use face masks safely
Prof Hunter stresses that ordinary face masks do need to be changed regularly (every five hours, he suggests) especially if wet or dirty – and they need to be disposed of safely, or washed each day in the case of coverings, after use.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) advice is to “make wearing a mask a normal part of being around other people”, as part of a comprehensive strategy to “suppress transmission and save lives”.
However, it does recognise that wearing any types of face mask can lull people into a false sense of security and make us less likely to social distance or practice other safety measures, such as washing hands, that are just as critical to curbing the spread of Covid-19.
We must also be aware of the risks of...