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Q: Is it safe for people with asthma to wear a face mask?

A: All persons with stable asthma who are not experiencing an exacerbation and do not have a facial deformity, sensory processing issues and are over 2 years old need to adhere to the mask mandate during the coronavirus pandemic. There is no scientific proof for claims that mask wearers with asthma decrease their oxygen saturation and/or increase their carbon dioxide to dangerous levels.

Some studies have shown that asthmatics are no more likely to become infected with COVID than the normal population. In fact, people with asthma and other chronic respiratory disease frequently have a chronic cough and often produce respiratory droplets; therefore, individuals with chronic respiratory illnesses including asthma and allergies should strictly adhere to the mask mandate to prevent them from spreading the virus. Wearing a mask may also prevent asthmatics from becoming infected by other viruses known to trigger asthma.

Another compelling reason for people to wear masks is because 10% to 40% of people who are presymptomatic (shed the virus before having symptoms) or asymptomatic (shed the virus without developing symptoms) may spread the virus unknowingly. When everyone is wearing a mask, it makes this scenario less likely.

Transmission of the virus in symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers is contrary to the viruses responsible for MERS or SARS-1. At the early onset of COVID-19, we falsely assumed we need only avoid people who were sick but have learned otherwise. We also believed the smaller droplets, aerosols, were not infectious. Unfortunately, these aerosols may remain in the air longer and travel farther. Therefore, the 6 feet of social distancing may be inadequate, especially if a sneeze may travel up to 26 feet.

Individuals who are unable to adhere to the mask mandate should shelter in place and maintain social distancing and excellent hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

Inappropriate medical exemptions may lead to an exponential spread of the virus and delay removal of restrictions in public places. The sooner at least 80% of the population adheres to the mask mandate, the sooner our economy rebounds, students safely return to school, large-scale celebrations proceed, employees return to work and we resume our new normal way of life.

— Susan Raschal, D.O., Covenant Allergy and Asthma Care; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

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Staff File Photo / Dr. Susan Raschal
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