COVID-19 Watch FACT CHECK Health

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Wearing masks daily DOES NOT cause carbon dioxide toxicity, oxygen deficiency

Despite having been flagged as disinformation, netizens continue to share a Facebook (FB) post that wrongly claims wearing face masks on a daily basis will bring “too much carbon dioxide” and “not enough oxygen” to the body’s organs.

The false claim, published Oct. 26 by FB page Lynn Channel, which has a history of sharing COVID-related falsehoods, has circulated online since May and debunked by fact-checkers in South America, Europe and Asia, including VERA Files Fact Check.

Hypercapnia—or carbon dioxide toxicity caused by the excessive inhalation of the said gas—could be dangerous, but is “extremely unlikely to happen as a result of wearing a mask,” a team of health experts gathered by international nonprofit Meedan told VERA Files Fact Check in a Sept. 12 email. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB post on the ‘dangers of face masks’ carries multiple FALSE claims)

Properly designed masks “allow for air flow,” making it possible for oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to “travel freely in and out of the mask,” they added. The World Health Organization Philippines said the same in May.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also told Reuters in a May 6 article that while there will be a build-up of carbon dioxide in the mask “over time,” its amount is “mostly tolerable to people exposed to it” and will be unlikely to cause hypercapnia.

Lynn Channel’s false post carried a photo of a diagram titled “Main symptoms of Carbon dioxide toxicity,” originally uploaded in February 2009 by Wiki Journal of Medicine founder Mikael Häggström. It could also be found in the Wikipedia entry for hypercapnia. Both web pages, however, do not carry any claim relating hypercapnia to mask-wearing.

Experts from Meedan’s COVID-19 Expert Database said the difficulty in breathing while wearing a mask might be a person’s form of “response to stress or anxiety from wearing the mask,” and could easily be addressed by “focusing on normal breathing patterns.”

WHO recommends the wearing of masks as one of the “key measures” to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. Masks serve as a barrier that stops droplets, the virus’ mode of transmission, from being transferred from one person to another.

However, the WHO reminds that the wearing of masks is only a part of a “do it all approach.” The public is advised to practice it along with observing physical distancing, regular hand washing, and proper respiratory hygiene to avoid acquiring the disease.

The U.S. CDC has also given a warning for children below two years old or anyone who “has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance” to not wear masks.

The spurious post by Lynn Channel already got almost 500 reactions, 1,100 comments, and 180 shares from FB netizens as the number COVID-19 cases in the country continued to rise, reaching more than 389,000 recorded cases—with over 32,000 active ones—as of Nov. 5.

Lynn Channel was created just last Feb. 10.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)