These Are the Only People Who Shouldn't Wear Face Masks, Says the CDC
Wearing a mask can pose other risks to very small children and anyone with certain conditions.
At most stores and public places you visit, there are most likely signs reminding you that you should be wearing a mask to protect yourself and those around you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have consistently emphasized how essential face coverings are in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. However, they're not universally safe. There are select groups of people who shouldn't wear face masks, due to risks unrelated to the disease.
"Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children younger than two years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance," the CDC notes in its FAQ about masks. In these cases, a mask could actually do more harm than good.
Professor of Nursing Science at Widener University, Darrell Spurlock, Jr., PhD, explains that masks can be dangerous for children under the age of two, because they "have smaller, less rigid airways than older children and adults." He also notes that they have less "physical strength to correct an issue, like a mask that was tied too tightly and slipped down around the neck." Additionally, masks prevent parents or caregivers from being able to observe a child's breathing status, Spurlock says. This is especially dangerous if the child already has a respiratory illness.
For those who have difficulty breathing, a mask can make it even more challenging, which can lead to further issues. However, Leann Poston, MD, points out that people who suffer from conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are at a higher risk for developing complications from the coronavirus. With both wearing and not wearing a mask posing some risk, Poston advises that those individuals "stay home if possible." She also suggests that they "try different styles of masks to see which one is easiest to breathe through, and practice wearing a face mask to decrease any anxiety" about it. Even a looser mask is better than nothing. "[It] can disrupt exhalation patterns and offer some protection from secretions," she says.
The dangers posed to people who are unable to remove masks on their own are similar, but potentially even more serious, as suffocation is possible.
If wearing a mask with your condition severely affects your ability to breathe or you are unable to remove a mask on your own, another solution is to opt to go out early in the morning or late at night, when there will be fewer people and you can social distance appropriately. And for more essential information about face coverings, check out 10 Myths About Face Masks You Need to Know.