Learn about the latest guidance for the use of asthma masks or allergy face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. This post is updated regularly. Last updated: January 11, 2020.
Face masks are obviously one of the big topics of conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As understanding about COVID-19 and the way it spreads has evolved over the past few months, so has scientific guidance about how to protect yourself and those around you. Research shows that masks and face coverings, if widely worn, can substantially reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending “universal mask use” when outside of your home. This includes wearing masks (or cloth face coverings) in both indoor and outdoor settings outside of your home. The reason is that the United States has entered “a phase of high-level transmission of COVID-19.”
All people over age 2 who can remove a mask without help should wear a mask outside of the home or when around people who don’t live in your household.
Many states require cloth face coverings in public. For some people, mask mandates may involve a trade-off with personal freedom, but it’s clear the benefits outweigh any potential harms, doctors say in a December 2020 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Until the pandemic is over, it’s recommended the public wear masks, especially when:
- indoor ventilation is poor
- large numbers of people are gathered
- people are singing or shouting
- when contact with other people is prolonged
Always use a clean mask for each outing. If possible, don’t take your mask off and put it back on during a single outing, as touching the mask increases the possibility of contamination. Wash your hands before putting a mask on and after taking it off.
Surgical face masks, N95 masks, and other medical grade masks are critical supplies and should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders.
Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials. They are recommended to help slow the spread of the virus and keep people who may have the virus but not know it from transmitting it to others. Think of it this way – my mask protects you and your mask protects me!
Should people with asthma wear masks?
Many people with asthma have questioned if it is safe for them to wear a mask. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there is no evidence that wearing a face mask can worsen your asthma.
However, some people with moderate or severe asthma may feel it is more difficult to breathe while wearing a face mask. If you don’t feel you can wear a mask due to your asthma, it may be best for you to stay home or avoid public places as much as possible. Ask family and friends to run errands for you. If you must go out, avoid large crowds and practice social distancing. Being in public without a face mask may increase your chances of getting COVID-19 or passing it on to others.
If you are experiencing difficulty breathing when wearing a mask, it is important to schedule an appointment with your health care provider to review your asthma control or seek emergency care.
Is there a type of asthma mask or allergy face mask recommended?
There is no endorsement of a “best mask” for patients with asthma or chronic lung diseases. Cloth masks are recommended for non-healthcare personnel. Fabric selection must balance sufficient capacity to trap viral particles with comfort. Recommended fabrics include cotton blends, 100% cotton T-shirt fabric and sheets/pillowcases with high thread counts. Two layers of fabric or one layer of fabric plus a filter layer are most commonly recommended. Too many layers will result in a mask that makes breathing difficult.
If someone is having trouble breathing, they should probably avoid wearing a mask as this could lead to worsening of their respiratory status. CDC recommends wearing a bandana, which may be the most comfortable approach for persons with lung conditions since it is not constricting.
We recognize that for many people, masks are inconvenient and not always comfortable. Try on a variety of masks, materials and styles to see what is comfortable for you and your family. For kids to be compliant, it may be helpful to involve them in choosing their masks and let them practice wearing them at home. Adults should set a good example by wearing a mask in public and modeling other good hygiene practices.
Remember it is the responsibility of all of us to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
What face masks should be avoided?
CDC recommends against using valved or vented N95 masks. These masks contain openings through which air is exhaled and are designed to filter out particles.
Valved or vented masks may actually be counterproductive, causing the user to release respiratory droplets into the air. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.
Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask if I have asthma?
A face shield is primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it. CDC says there is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for protection from or transmission of COVID-19 respiratory droplets. Therefore, CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.
However, wearing a mask may not be feasible in every situation for some people – people who are deaf or hard of hearing or those who interact with a person who is hearing impaired. CDC says data suggests the following face shields may provide better protection than others:
- Face shields that wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend below the chin.
- Hooded face shields.
We encourage you to keep up with the latest information about COVID-19 by visiting our COVID-19 Information Center regularly. If you are preparing to send your child off to school this year, also check out our COVID-19 School Resources for Managing Asthma and Allergies.