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Can face masks harm your health?

NOW: Can face masks harm your health?

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - As we know some states and counties across the U.S are either requiring or highly recommending masks be worn at all times while out in public. But do wearing masks long-term cause harm to our health?

The masks are uncomfortable and sometimes even hard to breathe in. Obviously they are important in limiting the spread of the virus. but can these annoyances actually become something worse for your health?

Dr. Mark Fox with the  St. Joseph County Health Department tells ABC57 there are myths out there that wearing a mask for long periods of time can affect your health, he’s especially seen some social media posts about the buildup of carbon dioxide negatively impacting people's lungs.

However, we’re told all that is false. For many of us who use masks in public or even those workers wearing masks, all-day Dr. Fox said that there are no negative health impacts.

“The only case in which that's been demonstrated is with a really tight-fitting respirator like an n 95 respirator. If you wear that long term, there can be some, some risk of that but with a surgical mask or even with, especially with a cloth face mask, there's no real risk of that it certainly can give the sensation of decreased airflow,” Dr. Fox said.

Of course anyone under the age of 2 or those who have breathing problems already should steer clear but for the average healthy individual these masks are okay.

However, Dr. Fox said while masks are sometimes uncomfortable and hard to breathe in, for a healthy person, the breathing issues are mostly mental.

“It's more of the sensation than physiology so it's the sensation that they are either able to inspire a good breath or get all their air out. So that sensation can be a problem for people with underlying lung disease, but there's not a fundamental physiologic problem from a regular cloth facemask,” he said.

For those who have to wear a mask all day like food industry workers, there are other risks that come up.

“The big concerns or you can just get skin irritation. So then that's one risk, the other is just the risk of it being contaminated either the exterior of it, if you're fiddling with your mask and adjusting it, you can contaminate it,” he said.

Dr. Fox said it’s important to wash your mask daily in warm water to prevent contamination and of you do feel short of breath or lightheaded, he said it’s good to listen to your body and take the mask off in a safe place if needed.

“Sometimes it's more, you know, an anxiety situation rather than, you know, a real problem with the mechanics of breathing, although anxiety will also cause problems with the mechanics of breathing. But sometimes you just need to give yourself that sense of freedom to take the mask off because it can be it's uncomfortable, and it's, it's different than what we're used to. And so it takes some time to get acclimated to that,” he said.”

Now gyms reopened as a part of stage 3 of Governor Eric Holcomb’s 5-stage plan to reopening the state.

Along with the reopening’s come specific requirements like wearing masks around the facility until the point of actually working out at a machine.

Some people decide to wear masks either way, but does that impact their health or their workout negatively?

Well Dr. Fox actually recommends it, especially if you're inside a somewhat busy gym.

While he said those who are exercising by themselves outside don’t need to wear a mask, if you are outside and let’s say in a running group it might be better to wear one to protect those around you.

However, it is enclosed places like gyms that generate a higher risk of spreading the virus.

And even if the mask feels like it’s harder to breathe Fox says that’s only a frame of mindset and that wearing a mask while working out at a gym is definitely recommended.

“Anything that makes you breathe hard or grunt in any forced exhalation is going to generate more droplets and propel them farther. And so while in theory, you know, in a gym, you might be able to create six-feet of physical distance from others. You know, if you're exercising at high intensity, there's a risk that you could propel droplets farther, and so a mask would benefit, you know, it would help protect other people around you,” he said.

Of course if you are feeling lightheaded or dizzy, take a break. Take off your mask for a second and you should be fine.

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