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Is Your Face Mask Causing You CO2 Poisoning?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Study dispels carbon dioxide-mask issue.

Here’s the latest on a new study that looked into whether face masks cause shortness of breath due to carbon dioxide CO2 poisoning.


Face Masks are the Seatbelts of Disease Prevention

Remember those days of TV commercials attempting to educate the public about how that wearing seat belts saves lives? And remember the arguments made that wearing a seatbelt would unnecessarily wrinkle your clothes, or—my favorite one—could trap you in a car that somehow went off a bridge into a body of water and caused you to drown?

We can laugh about it today, but is it really any different that the myriad reasons we’ve heard today when people argue why they cannot and should not be required to wear a mask? For example, the claim that wearing face masks may be putting people's health at risk, which has become a political issue.

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Perhaps today we can put the issue to rest.

Study Dispels Anti-Face Mask Argument

According to a news release from the American Thoracic Society, new research findings contradict statements linking wearing face masks to carbon dioxide poisoning by trapping CO2 around the nose and face.

In a study titled “Effect of Face Masks on Gas Exchange in Healthy Persons and Patients with COPD,” researchers performed a study that investigated whether wearing face masks results in carbon dioxide levels that adversely impact the amount of oxygen getting to the lungs. Using study participants that were not only healthy, but also those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the researchers determined that sensations of breathlessness while wearing a mask is not due to carbon dioxide poisoning by trapping CO2 around the nose and face.

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"Dyspnea, the feeling of shortness of breath, felt with masks by some is not synonymous of alterations in gas exchange. It likely occurs from restriction of air flow with the mask in particular when higher ventilation is needed (on exertion)," stated Michael Campos, MD, the principal investigator of the study. "We show that the effects are minimal at most, even in people with very severe lung impairment."

The news release tells us that while the authors of the study do acknowledge that some individuals do experience feelings of breathlessness—especially with brisk walking or climbing an incline—they recommend that the best recourse is to simply slow down or remove the mask once you are a safe distance from others.

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"It is important to inform the public that the discomfort associated with mask use should not lead to unsubstantiated safety concerns as this may attenuate the application of a practice proven to improve public health…The public should not believe that masks kill," says Dr. Campos.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Resprouk from Pixabay


Face masks unlikely to cause over-exposure to CO2, even in patients with lung disease” American Thoracic Society news release 2 Oct. 2020.

Effect of Face Masks on Gas Exchange in Healthy Persons and Patients with COPD” Rajesh Samannan, M.D et al., Annals of the American Thoracic Society; Received: July 10, 2020, Accepted: September 29, 2020, Published Online: October 02, 2020.