Asthma and Face Masks – What People With Asthma Need to Know
Before 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks were typically only seen in doctor’s offices or hospital waiting rooms from people having flu-like symptoms. Today in public, it is more common to see someone wearing a face mask than not; especially when business owners and municipalities require face masks to be worn before entering their establishments.
To some, wearing a face mask is a simple and mindless task, but those who have asthma may have a more difficult time executing such a relatively simple task. So, what do you really need to know about asthma and face masks, and what can you do to stay safe during these unprecedented times?
Mild Asthma and Face Masks
Mild asthma is typically well-controlled and may only occur after an exercise-induced activity or when triggered by other respiratory sicknesses. People who have mild asthma are less likely to have difficulty breathing while wearing a face mask or face covering because they are less sensitive to minor irritants than those who have severe asthma.
Those with severe asthma can easily become triggered by allergens, dust, or a reduced air supply. Generally, people who have mild asthma will be able to wear a face mask with essentially no issue in normal conditions.
Because asthma can be triggered by pollen, humidity, and heat, wearing a face mask can inadvertently cause an asthma flare-up when worn on days that are hot or have a high pollen count. Hot days or high pollen count days can make wearing a face mask difficult if you have mild asthma.
The negative effects of heat, humidity, and pollen can intensify when wearing a mask, causing you to suffer from an asthma attack or have more severe asthmatic symptoms than when wearing a mask on a cool day.
On hot, humid days or high pollen count days, it is best to try to stay indoors and limit the amount of time you will be wearing a face mask. This will significantly reduce the chance of having an asthma attack or asthmatic symptoms while wearing a face mask.
Make sure you have your inhaler on you at all times in case an asthma attack occurs. Being prepared is the best way to ensure that you manage your asthma and asthma symptoms, especially when they may unexpectedly occur.
Severe Asthma and Face Masks
It will be more difficult for those who have severe asthma to wear a face mask, especially for long periods. Severe asthma only affects about 10% of people who have asthma, but the symptoms can be debilitating or even life-threatening.
Severe asthma is asthma that does not respond to normal treatment. When someone with severe asthma has an asthma attack, they can’t use a rescue inhaler to alleviate the symptoms to help them breathe. Instead, they will need to visit a hospital emergency room to receive effective treatment.
Those who have severe asthma will need to limit the amount of time they spend wearing a face mask because of how dangerous an asthma attack can be. This is especially critical in conditions that can trigger asthmatic symptoms or an asthmatic attack, such as heat, humidity, pollen, and long durations of restricted breathing through a mask.
It is only when wearing a face mask cannot be avoided that someone with severe asthma should wear a face mask. Try to maintain a safe distance from others so that you can limit the amount of time you will spend wearing a mask.
The Best Face Masks for People with Asthma
For those times when you have to wear a face mask, some face masks are better than others. Wearing the right face mask will not only keep you protected, but it will also keep you comfortable.
Avoid N95 Masks
People with asthma should avoid N95 masks because they are the most restrictive. This is why they are used by healthcare providers; they are extremely effective in blocking droplets from being inhaled through the nose or mouth. Because of this, they are the most restrictive, making it the most difficult face mask to breathe through, especially for people with asthma.
An N95 mask should avoid being worn by people with asthma because it will limit the amount of oxygen that is breathed through the mask. This causes you to rebreathe carbon dioxide, which will increase the humidity within the mask and cause asthma to flare up.
use a mask made of breathable fabric
The best masks for people with asthma will be made of breathable fabric. This includes moisture-wicking material and cotton blends. These breathable fabrics will allow more oxygen to enter the mask while also reducing the chance that droplets will make their way through the mask.
These materials are ideal for asthma sufferers because it is less restrictive; meaning that it lowers the chance that people with asthma will have an attack or adverse reaction while wearing a cloth mask for a short time.
use a neck gaiter
People with asthma can also use a neck gaiter because it provides ventilation through the opening at the bottom of the gaiter while covering your nose and mouth. This increases the amount of oxygen that you breathe in which lowers the humid levels of carbon dioxide that can trigger an asthma attack or asthmatic symptoms.
Practice Wearing a Mask at Home
Before you go out, try your mask on at home. Make sure that it covers your nose and mouth adequately and that you can breathe through it without triggering your asthma. You should do this a few times after you get your mask.
Try to Limit the Time You Wear a Mask
For people with asthma, face masks shouldn’t be used for long durations. They should be used for times when wearing a mask is required or unavoidable at a specific time of the day. This includes going to a doctor’s appointment, going to a grocery store, or running an errand in which a mask is required.
Masks shouldn’t be worn for longer times than required. You should wear a mask for the exact reason you need so that you aren’t breathing in carbon dioxide longer than necessary. Wearing a mask for extensive periods can lower your blood oxygen level and significantly increase the chance of triggering an asthma attack or asthmatic symptoms.
Make sure that you put your mask on right before entering the building in which masks are required and take it off when exiting the building whenever it is safe to do so. This will make sure that that you are limiting the amount of time that you are confined to breathing through a mask.
What Else You Can Do When Wearing a Face Mask Isn’t an Option
If you have severe asthma, wearing a face mask even for a short time may not be an option, but there are different things you can do to stay safe from COVID-19 and other sicknesses.
maintain a safe distance from others
Airborne illnesses are defined as illnesses or diseases that are spread through the air in droplets of sneezes, coughs, and communication. Staying a safe distance from others, approximately 6 feet and more, will help significantly reduce the chance of contracting an airborne illness or disease.
Social distancing from others will keep you safe without having to worry about managing your asthma symptoms while wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic.
wash your hands often
Washing your hands frequently will help you stay protected from contracting COVID-19, the flu, and other bacterial or viral infections. You should wash your hands after coming in contact with others, especially before eating, drinking, or touching your face.
choose curbside pickup
Many retailers are now offering curbside pickup as an alternative to shopping indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is beneficial beyond COVID-19. This can also help keep you safe during flu seasons and other times when conditions are unfavorable for people with asthma. Curbside pickup allows you to shop for groceries, medications, and other necessities without having to wear a mask to enter a store.
If you have mild asthma, wearing a face mask for a short period of time while running an errand or visiting a doctor’s office is generally safe. It is only when the conditions are hot, pollen counts are high, or the face mask is worn for long durations that face masks can present a problem for people with asthma.
These conditions can cause asthma symptoms to become triggered or an asthma attack to occur, so it’s important to keep your rescue inhaler on you at all times when wearing a mask.
People who have severe asthma whose asthma attacks are unresponsive to inhalers or other treatments will need to limit the time they spend wearing a mask because they are more likely to suffer from an asthma attack and will require immediate emergency treatment. For this reason, it is recommended for people with severe asthma to limit the amount of time spent wearing a face mask.
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