Published on September 11, 2020

Four people wearing masks downtown

LMH Health docs debunk common mask myths

Jessica Brewer, LMH Health

We’re constantly bombarded with updates, news and information about COVID-19 and it can be hard to tell what information is true and what isn’t. With the mask mandate in effect, cases on the rise and KU students back in town, how much are we really protected by wearing a mask? Why is it so important to wear one? 

LMH Health infectious disease physicians Drs. Christopher Brychel and Christopher Penn chimed in to answer a few of the hottest questions we’ve received. 

If I wear a mask, will I be able to get enough oxygen?

Dr. Christopher Brychel

Dr. Christopher Brychel

Dr. Brychel: Yes, masks are designed to allow adequate amounts of oxygen when you breathe in and sufficient release of CO2 when you exhale. The mask prevents transmission of larger particles, such as viruses and bacteria. Different masks have different filtering capabilities but they all allow for essential respiratory function. 

Dr. Penn: A mask will not prevent oxygen from reaching your nose and mouth. Surgeons, surgical nurses, surgery technicians and many others have been wearing masks for extended periods every day without untoward effects. 

I’ve got a medical condition such as asthma or COPD. Is it safe for me to wear a mask? 

Dr. Christopher Penn

Dr. Christopher Penn

Dr. Penn: Yes. Wearing a mask will not prevent the normal transfer of carbon dioxide.  Of course, we recommend that you discuss any concerns with your physician. After speaking with one of our pulmonologists, I learned they were unaware of anyone in their group who had recommended against wearing a mask. 

Dr. Brychel: In very rare instances, some individuals may not be able to tolerate a mask due to underlying lung issues. It should be noted that those individuals are at an exceptionally high risk of dying from COVID and should likely avoid public interactions. 

Am I breathing in more bacteria or virus if I wear a mask? 

Dr. Brychel: If utilized and cared for properly, no. However, it is important that you either clean or exchange your mask at least once a day because masks can accumulate environmental particles, including virus, bacteria and fungi.  

Dr. Penn: No. There is no evidence that masks lead to bacterial, fungal or viral infections of the upper or lower airway. However, masks that become soiled should be replaced and masks should not be worn for more than one day before laundering (if cloth) or replacing. 

Won’t wearing a mask weaken my immune system?

Dr. Penn: There is no evidence to support this. Again, years of experience in the operating rooms shows us that masks are safe and do not compromise the immune system. 

Dr. Brychel: No, but acquiring COVID will. 

I’ve been wearing a mask and now my face is breaking out with acne. Why? What can I do about it? 

Dr. Brychel: Some individuals develop sensitivities to mask components or, if using cloth masks, detergents used to clean them. Trying a different type of mask or mask made of different components may be useful. If using a cloth mask, washing it in hypoallergenic detergent may be useful since our facial skin may be more prone to sensitivities. Not wearing makeup is helpful as well. If makeup is necessary, it should be oil-free or non-comedogenic. Use of a gentle skin cleanser and moisturizer may be helpful as well. Because there may be multiple different reasons for skin sensitivities, patients may need to seek an evaluation from their doctor if conservative measures fail to resolve the skin irritation or breakouts. 

Dr. Penn: Face mask breakouts are not uncommon and could arise from several conditions. For more information, contact your physician and you may want to review available material on the internet from the American Academy of Dermatology at www.aad.org. 

I keep hearing people say, “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.” Doesn’t my mask protect me? 

Dr. Penn: Depending on the material used in construction, a non-medical mask provides varying levels of protection for the mask wearer in addition to greatly reducing the potential spread of infection from someone who may be asymptomatically shedding the virus. 

Dr. Brychel: It does to an extent but the primary reason for wearing a mask is to prevent ourselves from getting others sick especially because we may be carriers of the virus without knowing. Different grades of medical masks provide different levels of protection for the wearer but must be worn properly and in conjunction with other infection prevention techniques. Although supply chains have improved, it is recommended that non-healthcare workers do not utilize medical masks so that they are available for healthcare functions. For non-healthcare related activities and day-to-day life, it is still recommended that cloth masks be utilized by the general public. 

If I’m wearing a mask, I don’t need to social distance – right? 

Dr. Penn: Masks are a fairly simple and straightforward defense against spreading COVID-19, but they are imperfect and represent only one tool in the toolbox. Droplets may pass around the mask if there is not a tight fit. For this reason, it is recommended that distancing greater than 6 feet be observed- even when masks are worn. It is important not to forget to practice hand hygiene before and after touching your mask, as well as in general. 

Dr. Brychel: Social distancing is still encouraged even if a mask is worn. Cloth masks only offer a certain degree of protection for the wearer and even medical-grade masks have their limits on filtering capacity. 

Why should I be forced to wear a mask? Shouldn’t I have the freedom not to? 

Dr. Brychel: We are all required to have a driver’s license or car insurance if we want to drive a car yet it is not typically looked at as an encroachment upon our personal freedom. Society is based upon social contracts, rules and laws that allow us to coexist safely and productively with one another. Some rules are transient or situational but are still essential to a properly functioning and healthy society. Public health matters are certainly no different. Closure of a restaurant or a food recall due to a foodborne illness technically encroaches upon an individual’s freedom to choose to eat at that restaurant or eat that food product. However, you would be hard-pressed to find someone that would argue this action should not be taken because it is for the greater good of the public. In the case of masking and COVID-19, a single individual’s actions, or inaction, can have profound effects in the midst of this outbreak and it’s important that every person does their part. 

Dr. Penn: We know that someone could be infected and spread the virus without feeling ill. That someone could be me. We know that mask use can decrease the spread of a virus that is known to cause great pain, suffering and even death. I wear a mask to do my part to protect those around me. I believe it is the right thing to do.

For additional information regarding COVID-19, mask-wearing, symptoms, measures for prevention and more, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.


Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communication specialist at LMH Health.


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LMH Health docs debunk common mask myths