Should individuals with asthma not wear N95 masks?

What is asthma?

Asthma is one of the most common respiratory conditions around the world. In people who suffer from it, the airways sometimes narrow down, swell, and produce more mucus, as a result of certain specific triggers. This causes the person to cough and produce a whistling sound as the exhale, called wheezing, and they can also breathe with difficulty and feel shortness of breath.

This respiratory illness often develops during childhood, and some common triggers include hot and moist air, pollen, dust, smoke, and other small particles. People with this condition can be severely affected or experience only a very mild form of the disease.

Asthma patients and face masks during the pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of questions and controversy surrounding face masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a universal mask use in public situations, which includes the use of a face mask, be it a reusable cloth mask or disposable face masks in any environment outside your home, and this includes kids over the age of 2. The CDC says it’s critical to prevent the spread of the virus, as the United States enters a high-level transmission phase.

It’s important to understand that, when talking about cloth masks and other non-medical-grade face masks, they only work when everyone is wearing them, as they don’t protect the user so much as they protect those around them. A good way to put it is that my mask protects you, and your mask protects me.

When it comes to people who suffer from asthma, there isn’t a mask that is considered to be the “best one” for asthma patients or any other lung disease. So, for asthma patients, the same recommendations made by the CDC makes for the general public must be followed by asthma patients.

The CDC urges the general public to leave medical-grade masks and respirators, like the N95 masks, KN95 masks, and surgical masks, for the healthcare providers on the frontlines of the pandemic. This is because these items are crucial for their protection, and they’ve been very scarce during the pandemic.

The rest of the population is encouraged to make use of cloth masks and other disposable face masks, combining them with social distancing measures. The CDC also states that respirators or masks with an exhalation valve are not recommended to be used for preventing the spread of the virus, as these valves release unfiltered air into the environment. And, in no way face shields are considered a good substitute for a face mask, and should only be worn in combination with them.

Now, the CDC does state that kids under the age of 2, people who are unconscious or unable to remove the mask on their own, and anyone who has trouble breathing for any reason, should not wear a face covering. If a person is asthmatic, and their illness is not well-controlled or is not mild, they can experience difficulty breathing with the mask on, as said by Dr. David Stukus who is a member of the Medical Scientific Council for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

To stop the spread of the virus, everyone has to wear a face-covering in public settings, so asthma patients who experience difficulty breathing can implement some strategies that could help them avoid this situation:

  •         Try a different fit or fabric for more breathable cloth masks.
  •         Wear medical or surgical masks.
  •         Stay at home as much as possible to avoid wearing masks.
  •         Avoid any situation in which infection might be possible, like crowded spaces, traveling, or being in contact with people who are sick.
  •         Cleaning and disinfecting your home more regularly.

Also, maintaining your asthma well-controlled is a priority to make wearing masks more comfortable and reduce the possibility of experiencing problems while wearing one. Common asthma triggers include dust, smoke, and pollen, so try to avoid those as much as possible.

Should asthma patients wear N95 masks?

N95 masks are respirators that can filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles in the air, which are those that don’t contain oil and have a minimum size of 0.3 micrometers. Such particles include dust, smoke, and pollen, as well as other bioaerosols like the flu virus or the novel coronavirus. For this reason, these masks have a wide variety of uses but have been particularly important for the protection of healthcare workers during the pandemic for virus protection because of their antiviral properties. Some of the most popular ones are the 3M N95 masks, with models like the 3M 8511 and the 3M 8210 being widely used.

N95 masks offer a very high barrier between the wearer’s mouth and nose and the air in the environment. They need to form a very tight seal around the face to be as efficient as they can be. However, this has been proven to cause some difficulty breathing in certain healthcare workers with cardiovascular or respiratory medical conditions. This is why the CDC recommends healthcare workers with these types of conditions to be evaluated by their healthcare provider before wearing these respirators at work.

In the USA, many medical supplies have been scarce since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in February. Many of these items were easy to find for sale in online stores and were available to buy in bulk and wholesale. Now, healthcare centers struggle to obtain enough of them, so it’s important to do our part to make sure these supplies reach these facilities and take all the measures to stop the cases from rising.

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