Q: I have asthma and I have heard that wearing a mask can reduce your oxygen levels and give you headaches. Is it safe for me to wear a mask or should I get a note from my doctor excusing me from wearing one in public places.
A: The Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that everyone should wear a non-medical grade or homemade face mask when in the community if it is not possible to maintain the social distancing rule of being two metres apart.
Various provinces and local authorities have more specific bylaws mandating the use of masks in indoor settings such as stores and restaurants since the restrictions have eased.
There can be exceptions made in certain special circumstances for medical reasons, but medical clinics in my area have stated that they will not be handing out medical notes. This is supported by the Thoracic Society of Canada, which recommends that all patients with underlying lung disease follow the mask and distancing regulations. This includes asthmatics, unless they are having an acute episode and need to use their inhalers. The society adds that there is no evidence that wearing a face mask will exacerbate or make worse any underlying lung condition including COPD.
Doctors have demonstrated that if you check your oxygen levels with and without a non-surgical mask there is no change.
Some health care professionals who wear N95 respirator type masks all day may occasionally complain of headaches. It is important that you find a mask that is comfortable to wear and does not keep falling down or requiring frequent adjustment with your hands. You should try not to touch it once it is in place. When you remove a mask, try to only touch it by the elastics. Wash in warm soapy water after each use.
If a person is so ill that they are not able to tolerate a mask, they should probably not go shopping or go to restaurants at all during this pandemic. They could do “curbside” shopping where groceries are ordered in advance by telephone or internet and then wait in their car for someone to put the items in the trunk, or get a neighbour, relative or volunteer to do the shopping for them.
There are some people who feel that being forced to wear a mask impinges on their personal freedoms. These are often the same people who are also against using vaccines. I have no problem with them risking their own lives and health, but they are also risking the health and well-being of the whole community.