Doctors Debunk Popular Myth on Prolonged Use of Face Masks

Wearing face masks in public has become the new normal for many Kenyans. The government has made it compulsory for Kenyans to don face masks when in public places to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in Kenya. But truth be told, having a mask on for a whole day is not one of the best feelings in the world as many struggles with discomfort as they are inhaling and exhaling the same air underneath those masks.

Word in the street has it that prolonged use of protective masks could cause hypoxia. According to medical experts, hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level, and some social media users have linked face masks to it.

“Breathing over and over exhaled air turns into carbon dioxide, which is why we feel dizzy. This intoxicates the user and much more when he must move, carry out displacement actions. It causes discomfort, loss of reflexes and conscious thought,” wrote one social media user on Facebook.

These sentiments are powerful enough to curtail government efforts towards combating the spread of COVID-19 as it instils fear in Kenyans can get discouraged from wearing face masks to protect themselves from catching the virus. However, doctors have debunked the myth, setting the record straight about the condition.

A number of pathological situations like respiratory or cardiac diseases where the whole body or a part of it is deprived of oxygen or when the lungs fail to give the blood enough oxygen are the common medical situations that can bring about hypoxia. According to experts, surgical and respirator masks have effective filters for free air circulation and cannot be causative agents for lower blood oxygen content.

“There’s no evidence linking the use of masks and hypoxia. Hypoxia is simply the lack of sufficient oxygen reaching body cells and tissues. Body cells need oxygen for metabolism to generate energy for life and work. Some of the common symptoms of hypoxia include confusion, elevated heart rate, rapid breathing and shortness of breath. Chronic hypoxia kills cells of the brain,” said Dr Sam Oula, a consultant paediatrician and Chief Executive Officer of Guru Nanak Ramgarhia Sikh Hospital in Nairobi.