It is safe for people with asthma to wear face masks. It can protect them and others from COVID-19 and help to reduce asthma symptoms in cold weather.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects around 1 in 13 people in the United States. It makes the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs swollen and narrow.

People with asthma may wear a facemask for several reasons. These include:

  • preventing the spread of viruses, including coronavirus
  • easing asthma symptoms during cold weather
  • protecting themselves or others at work in healthcare or construction settings

There has been considerable debate on whether it is safe for people with asthma to wear a face mask. The concern has been that the mask could make it difficult to breathe. However, no evidence suggests that wearing a face mask can worsen asthma symptoms.

In this article, we examine the evidence on mask safety for people with asthma. We also look at the benefits of wearing a mask with asthma and whether a mask may help during cold weather.

Adult adjusts the face mask of a childShare on Pinterest
Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

Asthma can cause breathing difficulties. When people inhale, oxygen passes into the lungs and crosses into the bloodstream. The blood then carries the oxygen around the body, delivering it to cells and tissues.

Doctors call the volume of oxygen in the blood the oxygen saturation level. In healthy individuals, the oxygen saturation level is 96–98%.

A 2021 study found wearing a face mask does not affect the volume of oxygen in people’s blood, regardless of whether they have asthma.

The researchers tested oxygen saturation levels in 223 people wearing different types of masks, and 102 of them had asthma. The average oxygen saturation level in people without asthma was 98%. The average oxygen saturation level in people with asthma was the same, at 98%.

When people breathe out, they exhale carbon dioxide (CO2), a waste gas that can be dangerous at high levels. Some people have argued that wearing a mask traps the CO2, meaning people breathe it back in.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said wearing a medical mask does not increase CO2 levels or lower oxygen saturation levels when worn correctly.

People with severe or uncontrolled asthma may sometimes have trouble breathing when wearing a mask. If this is the case, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) suggests they try a mask made from a different fabric or of a different type and fit.

They should also check the instructions to ensure they wear the mask correctly or consult a healthcare professional.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone over 2 years old wears a mask in public places when there is a high level of coronavirus in the area. Public areas include schools, community settings, and on public transportation.

When there is a medium or low level of coronavirus in the area, people can choose whether to wear a mask or not. People at a high risk of getting ill with COVID-19, such as those with asthma, should consider wearing a mask in public.

The mask should cover the mouth and nose, fit under the chin, and be snug to the face.

People do not need to wear masks outside. Sometimes, people may prefer to wear a mask when in a crowded outdoor place in an area with high coronavirus levels.

Face masks can help to stop the spread of coronavirus. This is important because people with asthma are more likely to get very sick from the virus than those with no underlying health conditions.

Different types of masks have different benefits:

  • Cloth masks provide the least protection from coronavirus. People should wash them after every use.
  • Surgical masks offer medium protection. People can increase their protection by wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask over the top. People should throw surgical masks away after each use.
  • Respirators, such as the N95 or KN95, offer the most protection, and people can reuse them.

Breathing in cold, dry air can narrow the airways and trigger asthma symptoms.

Some individuals with asthma wear a mask or face covering during colder weather. Covering the mouth helps warm the air before it gets to the lungs.

There has been much debate about whether it is safe for people with asthma to wear face masks. No evidence suggests that wearing a facemask is dangerous for people with asthma.

The CDC recommends all adults and children over the age of 2 years wear a face mask in public areas with high levels of coronavirus. This is important because people with asthma are likely to have more severe symptoms of COVID-19 than people with no underlying health conditions.

People who find it difficult to breathe while wearing a face mask can try another type of face mask or speak with their healthcare team.