Could Wearing a Mask for Long Periods be Detrimental to Health?

Could the requirement to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus be doing more harm than good to people’s health?

A retired neurosurgeon believes so, pointing toward studies which found that wearing masks for prolonged periods can cause serious side effects.

Dr. Russell Blaylock wrote that the side effects from prolonged wearing of a face mask “can vary from headaches to increased airway resistance, carbon dioxide accumulation, to hypoxia, all the way to serious life-threatening complications.”

The side effects vary depending on whether they are cloth or paper surgical masks or N95 respirator masks because the N95, being a more effective filter, also limits breathing to a greater degree, and is therefore more commonly associated with headaches.

The study of 212 healthcare workers who were asked to report on the presence of headaches while using the N95 mask, including the duration of the headache, the type of headache, and whether they had pre-existing headaches. The study found that around a third of workers developed headaches when using the N95 mask, the majority had pre-existing headaches that were made worse by the use of the mask, and around three in five required pain medication to relieve the headache.

Although tight straps or pressure from the mask were considered as potential causes, the evidence pointed to the headaches being caused by reduced blood oxygenation, or an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood.

“It is known that the N95 mask, if worn for hours, can reduce blood oxygenation as much as 20%,” Blaylock wrote. This, he said, “can lead to a loss of consciousness, as happened to the hapless fellow driving around alone in his car wearing an N95 mask, causing him to pass out, and to crash his car and sustain injuries. I am sure that we have several cases of elderly individuals or any person with poor lung function passing out, hitting their head. This, of course, can lead to death.”

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