If you have asthma, a chronic breathing condition characterized by inflammation in the lungs, you probably have many questions about the use of facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may be wondering whether wearing a mask will somehow aggravate or trigger your asthma symptoms. You may also want to know whether having asthma puts you at greater risk of COVID-19 complications, and if so, what type of mask you should use for optimal protection.
It may come as a surprise that wearing a mask actually can be beneficial for your asthma. Mask-wearing can help protect you from cold weather, environmental pollutants, allergens, and respiratory infections, all of which are known to trigger asthma symptoms.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines have changed in terms of mask recommendations. As of publication, CDC mask recommendations are based on COVID-19 levels in different communities.
Recommendations vary based on case numbers, hospital capacity rates, and the number of hospitalized patients. Masks may be recommended if you live in an area with medium to high community levels, based on your own medical needs and risk factors.
In terms of mask-wearing for people with asthma, the CDC explains that in most cases, people with asthma can safely wear masks. And having asthma doesn’t qualify for a mask exemption if and when mask mandates are in place.
Both the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) have also lent support to the idea that people with asthma can safely wear facemasks.
The AAFA has stated that in people with well-controlled asthma, wearing a facemask shouldn’t be a safety issue. But people with asthma should take care to manage their condition and take their prescribed medications.
The AAAAI published a 2012 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that found that oxygen levels didn’t decrease among asthma patients who wore masks. This was the case regardless of the duration of mask-wearing or the type of mask worn.
Asthma can be triggered by a variety of sources that could be breathed in. Exposure to some of these asthma triggers can be reduced with mask usage, and many people with asthma have found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, their asthma symptoms have been reduced by using a facemask.
Some of the most common asthma triggers that masks can reduce exposure to include:
If you’re looking to protect yourself from COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses, wearing a well-fitting facemask can offer good protection.
The AAFA recommends that people who are at increased risk for COVID-19 complications, including people with asthma, consider wearing a high filtration mask, such as an N95 or KN95 mask.
Whatever N95 or KN95 mask you use, it’s important not to use a mask with exhalation valves, as they can allow droplets of the virus to get airborne.
It’s also recommended that the mask fit you snugly (no gaps) and that the mask is comfortable so that you will keep it on, as needed.
A 2022 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice found that asthma symptoms in children may worsen for the first 6 months after a COVID-19 infection.
On the other hand, other studies have found that asthmatic children didn’t have worse outcomes after a COVID-19 infection than non-asthmatic children.
There are no N95 masks that are made specifically for children. But if you’re looking for a high filtration mask for your child to use, you might consider a KN95 or KF94 mask, as there are certain brands that make these masks for children.
The AAFA recommends that children who wear face masks wear one that fits comfortably and snugly, covering both the nose and mouth and without any gaps between the mask and side of the face or nose. Only children ages 2 and over should wear facemasks.
Some people are surprised to learn that cold air, usually during the winter, can contribute to asthma symptoms for some people.
This is because cold weather can affect the lining of your respiratory tract and trigger episodes of bronchial hyperresponsiveness (bronchial spasming or narrowing).
Experts suggest that wearing a facemask during cold weather can mitigate these risks. This is because facemasks can help warm and humidify the air you breathe.
There aren’t many cold-weather facemasks designed specifically for people with asthma, but simply wearing a scarf or any comfortable facemask can help with cold-induced asthma symptoms. You may want to select a face-covering made of warm material such as fleece.
Wearing a mask to protect yourself from COVID-19 is safe, even if you have asthma.
What’s more, wearing a mask might protect you from other common asthma triggers, such as allergens, cold air, air pollutants, and other respiratory viruses that trigger asthma.
If you have any further questions about asthma and wearing a mask, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.