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Is My Child Breathing Carbon Dioxide When Wearing a Mask?

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Is My Child Breathing Carbon Dioxide When Wearing a Mask?

Aug 30, 2021

Evidence shows that masks work at preventing the spread of COVID-19. But could wearing a mask increase the amount of carbon dioxide your kid breathes during the day? Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner debunks this mask myth and explains the science behind the safe long-term use of masks—even for children.

Episode Transcript

There have been concerns by some parents that they don't want their kids wearing masks because they believe their child will be inhaling their own carbon dioxide with prolonged mask wearing and that will cause oxygen deprivation. Some say that children will inhale up to six times the safe limit of carbon dioxide.

Let me help clear the air on this one. It's not true. Here's the science behind the truth. Carbon dioxide poisoning or hypercapnia from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out doesn't happen because carbon dioxide molecules are extremely small, even smaller than the respiratory droplets, which is what we are protecting against when we wear the masks. They cannot be trapped by cloth or medical masks or any sort of breathable fabric. Those tiny molecules just pass right through the material.

Surgeons, nurses, respiratory therapists, all of us in the medical profession, in fact, wear our masks for hours and hours during the day. Studies done by having surgeons wear oxygen monitors during their entire time in the operating rooms show that masks have no effect on the amount of oxygen they have in their bodies.

If your child is wearing their mask properly, covering their mouth and their nose and fitting snugly over their face with the ear loops or ties, then your child will be protected from the respiratory droplets we don't want going through the breathable fabric, but still letting them breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide through their masks.

The bottom line is masks work. Last year during what is usually a very busy winter season, I hardly saw any sick kids. Now we are seeing RSV and rhinovirus and all sorts of other winter viruses because people have loosened up on mask wearing and viruses are taking advantage of that. Hospitals are full with kids who are having respiratory virus complications. I've had parents of children with asthma tell me that since their kids wore masks, the last school year, they didn't get sick and didn't have any asthma flare-ups. We can do this.

The kids I've spoken to have no problem wearing their masks. They like to coordinate their masks with their outfits and get cool ones with princesses and superheroes on them. I tell them they actually are little heroes. They tell me they have no problem wearing masks all day at school either. My own kids even say that they're so used to their masks, they don't even think about them anymore. And they're in junior high and high school. So mask up. And if you have any other concerns about COVID and COVID precautions, be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician.