Your immune system is a remarkable and resilient mechanism. It has two parts called the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. They work together to protect you from infectious diseases. We’ll take a look at each part and why your immune system won’t be affected by wearing a mask.
The innate immune system is always on and operates automatically. It can detect potential pathogens and responds to them with a preprogrammed reaction very quickly. The innate immune system can attack most germs that infect the body, even if it has never seen them before. Because the innate immune system is able act against a broad range of germs, it is not affected by wearing a mask.
If a pathogen is new or the infection is too big for the innate immune system to handle by itself, the adaptive immune system is activated. The innate immune system forwards information about the infection to the adaptive immune system, which then produces a response specially tailored to the infection. The adaptive immune response is very specific, or finely tuned, to the pathogen in question. It consists of cells that produce antibodies and cells that hunt down the pathogen and other infected cells. All possible genetic combinations of these cells already exist in your body, they just need to be activated at the right time.
Once the infection is wrapped up, the adaptive immune system can create specialized cells that remember the infection. These memory cells help the immune system respond more quickly next time that particular pathogen (or even closely related pathogens) infects the body. Recent studies have shown that elements of the innate immune system can also have memory. The immune system’s memory function ensures that your body doesn’t need to be exposed to new germs all the time, like when you wear a mask, to be ready and able to protect you.
In summary, wearing a mask (or staying home, or social distancing, or washing your hands) won’t weaken your immune system because the number of germs you are exposed to is a very small part of how “strong” your immune system is. Some of the factors that have large effects on your immune system include age, genetics, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking.
Last Updated: May 22, 2020
Reviewers: ERS, JAB