Do you feel a little short of breath while wearing a face covering?

Many states and cities are requiring people to wear a face covering in public. Sometimes wearing a face covering can be uncomfortable. And people have worried that wearing a face covering might cause serious breathing problems. The good news is that, if you’re otherwise healthy, wearing a face covering is usually safe.

Doctors have done a fair amount of research of the effects of face covering. But most of the studies are small, and the studies are rarely repeated to confirm the results. Here are some key points. 

In several studies, healthy people generally said they felt fine wearing a mask for several hours, even while doing moderate exercise. Sometimes people said they felt short of breath, but measures of oxygen in their blood stayed normal. Other times people said they felt fine, but measures of oxygen in their blood went down a little bit. In all these studies, no one got sick from wearing a mask.

If you have a breathing problem like asthma or COPD, things are different. Wearing a face covering can make it slightly harder to breathe, or effect the moisture or temperature of the air that you breathe. If you already have a breathing problem, wearing a mask might make it worse. If you feel fine wearing a mask, keep doing it. But if you have trouble breathing, talk to your doctor.

For anyone wearing a mask, try to keep it short, and don’t do anything too physically hard. For working out outside, consider  finding a large enough space that wearing a mask is not necessary. And if you ever experience serious shortness of breath, chest pain, or feel faint, take off your mask and call your doctor. 


Last update: May 29, 2020, 3:12 pm ET

Science review: ERS, GSN