This Face Mask Claim Is Going Viral—and It's 100 Percent Wrong

Don't believe this face mask myth if you see a YouTube video about it.

Face masks have become a topic of political debate amid the coronavirus pandemic, particularly recently as cases spike across the nation. And with so much information floating around, it can be hard to distinguish mask facts from mask fiction. On YouTube, for example, there have been numerous videos promoting the fallacy that the prolonged use of face masks can cause health problems due to breathing in too much carbon dioxide (CO2).

According to a media watchdog site, videos that have warned viewers about the breathing dangers of wearing a mask are going viral and have received a combined total of at least 700,000 views on YouTube. The videos have also been shared on Facebook, getting a combined total of more than 400,000 engagements as of July 6.

But, according to numerous medical organizations, that notion is false.

hands holding a face mask

"There's been some speculation on social media that wearing a mask can cause you to rebreathe the carbon dioxide you exhale and make you sick," the Cleveland Clinic makes clear. "While inhaling high levels of carbon dioxide is dangerous, this is very unlikely to happen from wearing a cloth face mask."

The World Health Organization (WHO) even weighed in on this viral myth, noting, "The prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency."

As most conspiracy theories go, there is an ounce of truth that leads to the believability in this myth. Breathing too much carbon dioxide is, in fact, dangerous for the body. And, as fact-checking website Snopes points out, "some people with preexisting respiratory illnesses may face health issues only with prolonged use of tight-fitting masks, such as respirators." But, they add that generally, "people wearing cloth or surgical masks are in little to no danger of breathing in unhealthy amounts of carbon dioxide."

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The ubiquitous wearing of masks in public has, like everything else in this hyper-partisan time, become political. But there is a lot of scientific evidence and data that proves that universal mask-wearing is an effective way to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, a recent Philadelphia Inquirer study found that states that recommend their residents wear masks—but do not require it—saw new coronavirus cases rise by 84 percent over a two-week period in June. The states that mandate wearing masks in public, however, saw new cases drop 25 percent over the same time period. As cases continue to surge in the U.S., some states are now deciding to make public mask-wearing mandatory. And for the more on the states that aren't, check out These Are the Only Remaining States With No Face Mask Requirement.

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