OGDEN, Utah — As mask mandates become more widespread, so have the questions and reasons people give for not wanting to wear one – but is there an instance where wearing a mask does more harm than good? FOX 13 asked a pulmonologist common mask questions.
It’s become the new normal, this season’s hottest fashion accessory and a requirement, in many cases, to go about your day – face coverings.
Mask use has become a controversial and politically charged topic since the onset of the pandemic.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have issued recommendations for use of face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But both organizations gave the opposite advice early on, causing confusion for many in the general public.
But is there an instance where wearing a mask does more harm than good?
“As a medical professional, do you think there’s any reason people shouldn’t be wearing them?” FOX 13 reporter, Elle Thomas, asked pulmonologist Chris Anderson.
“No.” Anderson responded bluntly.
Dr. Chris Anderson, a pulmonary physician for Ogden Regional Medical Center, knows a thing or two about lungs.
“When you consider that death is a possible outcome [of coronavirus] this seems pretty reasonable,” Anderson said as he lifted the mask hanging around his neck up to his face. “Because one you have the infection, unfortunately the supportive care that we provide isn’t nearly as effective as the preventative care [masks] that we have at our disposal.”
When it comes to masks, Anderson said, no doubt, “Some of them are more difficult to breathe in than others.”
But, as far as oxygen levels are concerned, Anderson said masks have no impact.
In fact, according to a recent study from The New England Journal of Medicine, wearing a mask protects you from external particles 100-fold by blocking droplets and aerosols created while talking.
The study states, “aerosols and droplets generated during speech have been implicated in the person-to-person transmission of viruses.”
While the actual size of COVID-19 is much smaller than the particles expelled while talking (between 20 and 500 micrometers), Dr. Anderson said it comes down to the level of exposure.
“There’s a dose response relationship with any interaction between you and infection,” Anderson said. “One or two viral particles, you’re probably going to be a lot better off than a billion, so even though the mask and with glasses and the face shield are not a hundred percent effective, anything you can do to reduce the dose, the amount of viral load that you introduce to your body, that’s to your benefit.”
Anderson cited another study, conducted by Nature Medicine, which found surgical masks significantly decreased the infection rate of certain illnesses emitted in droplets.
“I think wearing a mask is similar to having fire insurance, flood insurance, car insurance, medical insurance,” Anderson said. “There are unpredictable life-threatening events that surround all of us and some people chose to live life without insurance… but when you have a potentially fatal illness, for which there is no proven cure, a mask is really good insurance.”
So, are there any medical conditions that would prohibit someone from wearing a mask? Anderson said the short answer is no. However, people who are prone to claustrophobia or anxiety may have a harder time adjusting to it.
As for people with asthma, COPD or other lung related issues, Anderson said the answer is still no.
“I deal with those patients, I haven’t had a single patient complain of a mask making [breathing] more difficult for them,” said Anderson. “Those patients, they have obstructive lung disease and air flow is obstructed as they’re trying to breathe out, those patients typically don’t have much difficulty breathing in,” he continued.
If you are one of those people who is prone to anxiety or claustrophobia, Dr. Anderson said a face shield is a great alternative, anything to provide an extra layer of protection.
Bottom line, it may be hot, uncomfortable or annoying, but Anderson believes it’s what’s needed to truly bring things ‘back to normal.’
“There are three things we can do to save ourselves, our loved ones, and our nation,” said Anderson. “Wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands.”
You can find more information on mask efficiency and recent studies here.