The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 13 people have asthma. Approximately 25 million Americans suffer, which equates to about 7.7% of adults and 8.4% of children. Unfortunately, these numbers have continued to rise since the 1980s amongst all ages, genders and races.
Currently, it is recommended that most people wear a mask to protect ourselves and others against COVID-19. A mask isn’t required while in your own home, however, it is recommended while in public, such as in a store or at a doctor’s appointment. Why? Because it is difficult to keep an appropriate social distance (six feet), which is the approximate distance that experts believe that droplets spread when coughing or sneezing, spreading COVID-19.
What Is an Asthma Mask?
A face covering, historically used by healthcare providers, those who are immunocompromised and those with lung conditions (such as asthma and COPD), is now required for most people when out in public.
An “asthma mask” is a facial covering that covers the nose and the mouth. There are a variety of options, but the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends a mask with three layers for most people:
- An outer water-resistant layer (for example, polyester)
- A middle layer of non-woven fabric (for example, polypropylene)
- An inner layer of cotton
A face covering should be opaque; when held up to the light, no light should be visible.
Aside from protection from COVID-19, an asthma mask may have other uses. A mask may help to prevent exposure to triggers, such as cigarette smoke, pollen and mold. However, there is little research to validate that a mask is effective in these situations. It is best to speak with a healthcare provider to determine if a mask is right for you.
When Should an Asthma Mask Be Used?
There is conflicting advice online as to when someone with asthma should wear a mask. There are various sources that state that masks may actually be harmful to those with asthma.
Wearing a mask is currently recommended when leaving the home, just as it is for all other individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the mask isn’t necessarily going to prevent all COVID-19 cases, it can protect others.
Experts also recommend those with asthma to wear masks when:
- You are a healthcare worker
- You live with someone who is ill
- You have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
- You are coughing or have any other respiratory symptom
Downsides to Asthma Masks
There are times when it may be difficult to wear a mask — or even unsafe. For example, children under the age of two should never wear a mask.
The CDC also states, “In some situations, wearing a cloth face covering may exacerbate a physical or mental health condition, lead to a medical emergency, or introduce significant safety concerns.”
One such example is interacting with a deaf person who relies on lip-reading as a primary way of communicating. There are alternatives, such as clear face coverings and relying on written communication, but these may not be available in every situation.
Another example is those with developmental disabilities, who may not tolerate or understand the use of face coverings. Weighing the use of the face masks with their healthcare provider is recommended.
When Should an Asthma Mask be Avoided?
The following people should never wear a mask:
- Children under the age of two
- Anyone who has difficulty breathing
- Anyone who is unconscious
- Those who are unable to put the mask on themselves or remove the mask themselves
Dr. David Stukus, member of the Medical Scientific Council for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, states, “For people with very mild asthma or well-controlled asthma, it’s probably not going to be an issue. For people who have very severe disease and have frequent exacerbations, ER visits, hospitalizations, require lots of medications and frequent symptoms, it might cause more issues for those folks.”
If you are someone who frequently has difficulty breathing, you may want to consider your usage of a mask. It may also be worthwhile to try a different type of mask — perhaps a mask with a more breathable fabric would work better, even if the mask isn’t “up to” the WHO recommendations.
If it isn’t possible to wear a mask, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommend the following:
- Stay home whenever possible
- Disinfect your home and car as often as possible
- Avoid crowds
- Avoid unnecessary travel
- Practice social distancing
- Ask others to run errands for you or use delivery services instead