Is breathing your own air while wearing a mask bad for you?

Is breathing your own air while wearing a mask bad for you?

A lot of people are out of their houses trying to get some fresh air now that the weather is nicer, and it might seem like wearing a mask all the time means the air you’re getting isn’t so fresh.

But wearing a mask outside is just fine for you. There’s no need for you to be concerned that you’re breathing too much of your own carbon dioxide.

“It’s one of those myths that circulates a lot on social media,” Dr. Robert Citronberg, director of infectious disease at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, said during a Facebook Live event. “And I can tell you there’s no scientific evidence that says wearing a mask is harmful in terms of retaining carbon dioxide.”

In fact, wearing a mask still is one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. A study published in The Lancet further supported it. “The use of face masks was protective for both health-care workers and people in the community exposed to infection,” the study reports.

Wearing a mask helps you protect other people avoid COVID-19, and the spread of the virus could be greatly reduced if everyone does it. Plus, breathing in them doesn’t harm you, even for long periods of time. Think of all the health care workers who go through long shifts wearing masks throughout.

“So I hate to see people not wear masks just because of that particular concern,” Dr. Citronberg says.

Check out our COVID-19 Info Center to learn more about the virus.

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  1. Auburn P. Herron June 8, 2020 at 12:13 pm · Reply

    The article in itself was fine. I like the direct statement and factual backup. Adding the video is outstanding. The straightforward conversational answering of common questions we all have by credible sources working in this area was very helpful and relayed we are not alone in our concerns and can work together to get through this pandemic with some basic actions. Really, really well done!

  2. Would you care to explain the following: When I wear the mask for an extended time while shopping, I get a severe headache, suffer from dizziness and numerous times have almost vomited in the middle of the store. I do have asthma and tend to gasp for breath while wearing the mask.

  3. Cheryl L Conrad June 8, 2020 at 3:19 pm · Reply

    I want to comment on the white masks we are now using instead of the blue paper variety. My mouth is breaking out in sores at the corners of my mouth and then going to the roof of my mouth. This is not normal. Any ideas for me?

    • Hi Cheryl,
      I just did some googling, and the two suggested skin reactions are contact dermatitis or hives. See below. You can also search around to get more information on the conditions, or contact a dermatologist.
      Itchy Rash
      Most itchy rashes from masks will be something called an irritant contact dermatitis, which will clear with a topical steroid like 1% hydrocortisone, gentle cleansers, avoidance of irritants, and heavy moisturizers, However, allergic reaction to formaldehydes, metals, rubbers, or glues in masks may also develop.

      After wearing a mask for extended period of time, wash your face with one of the gentle cleansers listed above. Pat dry gently, then apply over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream, followed by application of one of the heavy moisturizing creams mentioned above. Apply the 1% hydrocortisone cream 2-3x/daily for maximum benefit.

      You can try this for up to 2 weeks safely. If you are not clearing at that point, contact your dermatologist. If you clear, slowly taper off the hydrocortisone and replace with a heavy moisturizer only for prevention of recurrence. Contact your dermatologist if you’re not seeing any improvement.

      If you’re developing hives, consider contacting an allergist or dermatologist. In the meantime, try using an oral antihistamine. If you take other medications, consult your provider prior to starting. New onset hives can require higher doses than the standard over the counter recommendations. If you don’t have any medication considerations, a good regimen to consider is Allegra 180mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 10mg in the evening. If needed, increase the dose to Allegra 360mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 20mg in the evening. Once the hives clear, slowly taper over 1-2 weeks to lowest effective dose after clearing.

  4. Hello,

    Can you explain why when I wear a mask – cloth or disposable – I start yawning 15 minutes after putting it on and continue to yawn until I take it off. Once I take it off, I stop yawning. Why is that?

  5. Christine Hoffmeyer June 9, 2020 at 4:12 pm · Reply

    I have observed others wearing masks in the hospital and worn them myself in the hospital. I’ve started wearing them all over with COVID 19 about. I was singing in a community choir and a church choir before and now the organization are trying to figure out how we can come together to sing safely in the age of COVID 19. Could a mask keep us safe when singing? If not what could?

    • Hi Christine,
      Unfortunately, nothing you can do is going to “keep you safe” besides staying completely isolated from people. As we start to open things up, the watch term is “risk mitigation.” Within the guidelines, you have to make the best judgment about how much risk is OK to expose yourself to, and by extension every other person you come into contact with.

      Masks will help reduce the risk of infecting other people. They do very little to protect you personally, so if you are singing in a group it would be very important for everyone without exception to wear a mask. Singing is one of the most infectious activities that people can perform, because you are vigorously exhaling air, and its associated droplets, out into the surroundings. Social distancing is also important, but the 6 feet guideline was intended for people talking, not singing, and there is no distance guideline for singing. Another potential mitigating factor would be to sing outside, where the air is not enclosed so you aren’t continuously breathing and re-breathing the same person’s exhalations. The number of people in the group would also play a role; the more people, the more the likelihood that one of them is infected and could infect others. The suspicion is that one of the factors in causing so many churches to be hotspots is the fact that many congregations sing.

      My own personal opinion, as a complete lay-person (with biology degrees) who’s done a lot of reading, is that it’s not worth it. But, singing isn’t an important part of my life like it is for you, so my comparison of risk vs. benefit has a different amount of benefit. I do think it’s important to make your decision not just based on your own personal risk, but the risk you would then pose to everyone else you’d come in contact with. The best way this pandemic can be safely navigated is if people make their decisions based on empathy, and we all realize that we’re all in this together.

    • Look on Amazon, they have a Safety Face Shield. This full face shield is attached to a glass frame, that I have recently purchased. It allows you to freely breath and be protected. Its also allow people who wear glasses be protected also. I think this is the best shield that does not cost that much.

      • When you say “be protected”, you missed the point above. Your mask protects others from your droplets and aerosol. Their mask protects you. What you wear doesn’t protect you very much. But anyway, a face shield does not stop droplets and mist anything like as well as a mask. You can wear a shield AND a mask, to get a bit of extra protection. (The shield may also help to protect your eyes, which the mask does not.)

  6. Interesting article, but I still have many concerns, I too like some of the others when I am wearing my mask particularly out in public, I tend to get extremely lightheaded, dizzy and feeling faint and some difficulty in thinking I forget what I am in the store for. I have left the groceries on numerous occasions because I felt like I would pass out. I am healthy, I have no issues with my lungs, I don’t suffer from any issues. But especially with the warm weather, I can’t seem to breathe with this mask on consistence basis. Any advice?

    • Hi Trina,
      I seem to be the one person responding to comments! I’m just a lay-person, but I have a couple degrees in biology, and I’ve done a lot of reading, so I feel confident replying with the disclaimer that I’m not an epidemiologist or a doctor.

      “Mask anxiety” is a real thing, and produces both psychological and physiological affects. Feeling claustrophobic and “like you can’t breathe” is a normal reaction to having your mouth and nose covered, and dizziness or light-headedness can be symptoms of anxiety. It can be compared to having to learn how to breathe only through your mouth for a snorkel or for scuba; it sounds perfectly logical, but your body freaks out at your breathing feeling different, and with masks you also have the increased heat and moisture around your face.

      I’m going to include a couple of links, one of which is for people with lung problems, but you could also use their strategies. General ideas are to practice at home, breathe calmly and evenly, practice mindfulness instead of focusing on your worries. I hope you find something that works for you!

  7. It is very hard to breath in the blue masks. I also wore a yellow mask and I get dizzy after 15-20 mins of wearing one. I was diagnosed with spontaneous Pnuemothorax and trying to gasp for breath while wearing a mask is horrible for me. Does anyone know if there will be a day/deadline where we wont be required to wear them?

  8. I am curious, does anyone know why I contentiously yawn when I put a mask on?

    • I posted that same question above and have not received a response. Looks like it happens to many, but I cannot find a reason why.

  9. Bizarre number of people with obscure and unusual medical conditions affecting their ability to wear masks. Sorry to hear about their issues, but doctors and nurses have been wearing cloth face masks since the late 19th century, and non-woven medical masks since the 1960’s. I’ve been wearing surgical type masks every time I leave the house since March. I went on a 6 mike bike ride wearing one this week. For almost everybody, if you are healthy enough to leave the house, you can wear a mask.

  10. Deborah Millard August 12, 2020 at 8:32 pm · Reply

    Would anyone be interested in an exhaust valve for your mouth so you do not need to recirculate the air that has already been inhaled? I think it is much more comfortable to only have fresh air entering the mask. No humidity or hot air build up.

  11. I had a brain tumor and brain surgery in 2014 and still experience mild seizures. When I wear the mask I feel the slight brain tightening as in my mild seizures. It also has caused staph on and in my nose to flair up. My doctor has suggest I not cover my nose because the warm moisture of my own exhale is causing this. I have to wear one slightly below my nose and not block air flow. I know some may not understand my situation, but this is my reality.

  12. Since it is proven that the virus size is much smaller that that of the average scent molecule, it stands to reason that if one can smell the scent of perfume or a fart in the grocery isle, then the mask will not stop the virus from entering or leaving.

  13. This is from last summer. Go to the link referenced in the Lancet. It actually says distance is the best way. N95, surgical, and 12-16 layer cloth masks measured against mers, sars, and a few studies on covid. N95 was the only significant one to protect.

  14. I do not think wearing a mask outdoors is necessary unless you are in a crowd. For our mental well being, we need to be outside without having to cover our faces. Also hospital workers are not allowed to wear cloth masks. Maybe that should be considered for all the people sensitive to the “chemicals” that were talked about above. That can’t be good for anyone to breathe in when consider health care workers are in masks up to 40 hours per week.

  15. I am curious if there have actually been studies completed in regards to this. I have had labs completed twice, both times completed hours after wearing a mask. Both times my carbon dioxide levels were significantly elevated and I am active and healthy. I think that it is easy to divert these concerns back to “the masks protect us from COVID” but what about the long term effects of retaining carbon dioxide.

  16. I’ve been wearing my mask exactly as prescribed. Not for me, but so others aren’t afraid of me. – I’ve now been very ill 3 times with flu like symptoms that lasted over a week. – negative Covid. Negative flu all 3 times. – no idea what it is. I have batteries of blood and iron tests, CAT scans and even EKG. All showed to be OK. This is the sickest year I have ever endured. Nothing else even close. I rarely get sick. – I’m convinced it’s the damned mask up against my breathing holes all the time. – I will continue to wear it so others won’t be scared. But I’ve been vaccinated too. – this is getting ridiculous

  17. So, I’ve been wearing my mask exactly as prescribed. Not for me, but so others aren’t afraid of me. – I’ve now been very ill 3 times with flu like symptoms that lasted over a week. – negative Covid. Negative flu all 3 times. – no idea what it is. I have batteries of blood and iron tests, CAT scans and even EKG. All showed to be OK. This is the sickest year I have ever endured. Nothing else even close. I rarely get sick. – I’m convinced it’s the damned mask up against my breathing holes all the time. – I will continue to wear it so others won’t be scared. But I’ve been vaccinated too. – this is getting ridiculous

  18. I believe we should all stay away from other people. Let’s play this smart. stay at home as much as possible. If you do venture out, wear two masks and don’t talk to people unless absolutely necessary. Try to keep members of your family in separate rooms and use radios (or texting if you have cell phones) to communicate with them. I also wear gloves which i have found to be very effective. Hopefully it is only for a few years and this will all be behind us. God bless you all and be safe from this most deadly disease.

  19. My grandson is more tired than usual after wearing a paper mask for 8 hours for school. Any thoughts?

About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.