Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rodger McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel and interim president.
Here’s a question from a reader:
Dear Dr. McEver,
My daughter dances ballet. It is mandatory to wear masks during floor exercises. I am concerned because of the high level of physical exertion, CO2 and bacterial buildup in her mask. What are the risks of mask-wearing under these circumstances?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
Over the last year, scientists have studied the risks of using masks while exercising. Resoundingly, they’ve found that even during vigorous physical activity, masks neither pose a danger to the wearer nor significantly impact athletic performance.
It’s true that bacteria can collect on masks when we exhale or perspire. But those bacteria don’t harm the wearer in the short term and can be dealt with the way we deal with all sweaty, soaking gym attire: by cleaning with detergent.
In one study out of Israel, scientists noted carbon dioxide levels increased in those exercising in N95 masks, though not to dangerous levels. Even so, athletes may prefer breathable cloth masks, which stop respiratory droplets but don’t trap the much smaller CO2 molecules.
Last month, fears about carbon dioxide and masks made new headlines when the Journal of the American Medical Association published a research letter on the subject. The work claimed that in a small study of children, masks contributed to high CO2 levels in inhaled air. JAMA swiftly retracted the letter following widespread criticism of the research methods. Among the critics was a Harvard scientist who studies the effects of CO2 on humans; he called the work “terribly flawed.”
Many athletic clothing companies now make masks for use during exercise. A reusable mask made from breathable, synthetic fabric may best serve your daughter. Paper-like disposable masks become wet when breathed into forcefully and lose some ability to block outgoing germs.
Public health officials have documented numerous Covid-19 outbreaks among people exercising indoors in proximity. With the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant, effective indoor masking, especially when engaged in vigorous activities, remains an essential tool to minimize viral spread.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!