Your Covid-19 questions answered

Is wearing a mask for a long time bad for my health?

Cloth masks, if made correctly, cause no harm to your health.
Cloth masks, if made correctly, cause no harm to your health.
Image: REUTERS/Maggie Andresen

Wearing a mask while out in public has become part of the “new normal” we live, but could wearing a mask for hours be a danger to our health? 

According to the Department of Health, covering your nose and mouth for a long time with a mask won't cause carbon dioxide poisoning or lack of adequate oxygen in healthy people.

“Healthcare workers routinely wear masks for prolonged periods while performing their duties,” it notes.

Studies have also found that prolonged use of face masks does not cause carbon dioxide intoxication, dizziness, or other health challenges.

However if you have COPD, emphysema, are a heavy smoker or struggle with asthma and suffer side effects from wearing a mask, it is advised that you speak to a doctor.

The Department of Health explains that cloth masks provide an additional layer of protection against Covid-19 by “reducing the number of microorganisms that a person releases into the air”.

“Mass mask wearing will ensure that fewer potential viral droplets are released into the air. Wearing a mask reduces the risk that someone will be exposed to the virus.”

It is important that you wear the right kind of masks, to both prevent spread of the virus and allow you to breath properly.

While the N95 masks used by doctors and nurses add additional protection for healthcare workers, cloth masks are recommended for the public.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says the mask should follow these safety guidelines:

  • The mask should have three layers. The outer two layers are best made from thick weave cotton like denim, calico, upholstery fabric or Shweshwe. The inner layer is best made from soft cotton to make the mask comfortable to wear.
  • The mask should be easy to breathe through so avoid T-shirt material and use fabrics that can be washed in hot water and ironed.
  • The mask should be a square shape with three pleats to help with the fit.
  • The mask should cover from above the nose to below the chin and up to the ears.
  • The mask should tie behind the head with ties from the top and bottom of the mask or elastic that hooks over the ears.

The NICD recommends that you change your masks every time you wear them.

“You will need two masks so that you can wash one and wear one. Wash your mask daily with soap and hot water. The mask is best dried in the sun and ironed. Do not share your mask with anyone,” it says.


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