PARTLY TRUE

Does wearing masks for a long period of time reduce your oxygen uptake?

With pre-existing conditions as asthma, obesity, one will experience difficulty in breathing.

In Summary

• The ministry of health approved three types of masks which include the N95 respirators, surgical masks and reusable cloth made masks.

• An Immunologist said with pre-existing conditions like Asthma and obesity, one will experience difficulty in breathing due to low oxygen levels.

A driver is seen with a mask from the side mirror of his car in Nairobi.
A driver is seen with a mask from the side mirror of his car in Nairobi.
Image: FREDRICK OMONDI

Just like wearing a shoe when one leaves their house, Kenyans have been left with no option but to put on a face mask as the coronavirus continues to surge.

Since the first case was reported in March, the government has laid out protocols aimed at reducing the infection rate, among them washing and sanitising hands, maintaining social distance and wearing a face mask.

Since then, there has been various misinformation on the effectiveness of these masks with the latest claim being it reduces the uptake of oxygen to the body.

 
 

A viral WhatsApp message claiming that wearing a mask for a long time interferes with your breathing and oxygen levels is partly true.

The message while referencing an article by Dr. Faheem Younus from the University of Maryland https://archive.vn/jIctm spelled out 17 measures to help people accept that the disease will be around for a while.

The ministry of health approved three types of masks which include the N95 respirators, surgical masks and reusable cloth masks.

The three were tested for fluid resistance and filtration efficiency.

  • N95 masks are more tightly fitted, making them more likely to inhibit the breathing of the wearer if worn for a prolonged period of time. These are said to filter up to 95 per cent of air particles
  • Surgical masks, which are disposable, are looser fitting, making it highly unlikely that wearers would see significant depletions in their oxygen intake. They have 90 per cent effectiveness.
  • Cloth masks are porous, allowing air to flow in and out and permitting normal respiratory functions while limiting the release of respiratory droplets. They have between 10 -20 per cent effectiveness.

The Star’s fact-check desk contacted an immunologist, Dr Kaikai Kalabusia, who said this depends on the nature of the mask one is wearing.

According to the doctor, the government’s recommendation is the N95 mask but due to hard economic times, not many Kenyans can afford this type.

As a result, many entrepreneurs have invented imitations of the surgical masks. As per the Kebs regulations, the masks are not authentic and up to the task.

 
 
 

“With pre-existing conditions like asthma and obesity, one will experience difficulty in breathing due to low oxygen levels,” he said.

He said there is however no scientific study to really confirm the theory because with the current situation, that has not been the area of focus for many researchers.

“In a real sense, a good surgical mask will cost you up to Sh3,500 per pack and not Sh50 or Sh100. With such low-quality masks one is likely to experience expiration or respiration [problem] hence seizures,” he said.

The doctor said one does not need to wear a mask while in the house or a less congested office.

He said it is common for surgeons and other scientists or healthcare workers to wear the N95 respirators for prolonged periods of time.

The ministry’s Centre for Disease Control or the World Health Organization has not issued any warning suggesting the use of these face masks would result in dangerous oxygen level depletion within the general public.

Research indicates that reduced oxygen intake level may lead to hypoxemia, a condition where there is low arterial oxygen supply, or hypoxia a condition where the supply of oxygen in tissue is insufficient. 

Mayo Clinic indicates the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood, ranges from 95-100, with anything below 90% considered low. 

A fact check done by usatoday.com showed that this misinformation may arise from the feeling of lack of air due to mechanical obstruction depending on the type of mouthpiece one is using. 

“But the feeling of obstruction is because we are not used to using the mouth mask. But as such it will not cause us any kind of hypoxia," Dr. Daniel Pahua Díaz, an academic from the Department of Public Health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico medical school, told Animal Político earlier in May.

Based on other fact-checks, the Star rates this claim as PARTLY TRUE since there is no evidence to support it.