Rumours are spreading on social media that extended use of face masks is dangerous to one's health. It can be seen in an image showing a newspaper column claiming that prolonged usage of face coverings causes excessive breathing of carbon dioxide that leads to health concerns.

Protection or endangerment?

One Dr Dennis A Castro B wrote in Vanguard, a Nigerian newspaper, that extended use of facial masks will result in hypoxia. "Breathing over and over exhaled air turns into carbon dioxide, which is why we feel dizzy," he said.

"This intoxicates the user, and much more when he must move, carry out displacement actions. It causes discomfort, loss of reflexes and conscious thought. It generates great fatigue. In addition, oxygen deficiency causes glucose breakdown and endangered lactic acid rise."

According to Snopes, there is no further information in the post regarding the type of masks that can cause the supposed damage or if the effect can be seen on both people that have respiratory issues and those without. It is also good to note that hypoxia is the starvation of oxygen within the body.

Another Facebook post stated that hypercapnia could arise after extended use of face masks, which is a condition where the blood contains too much carbon dioxide.

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Hypercapnia is observed as having symptoms such as disorientation, drowsiness, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue and dizziness. The more severe symptoms, however, will result in seizures, twitching of the muscles, loss of consciousness, and even coma. It can also be caused by health conditions such as sleep apnea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as reported by Reuters.

Debunking claims

Although an excessive amount of carbon dioxide for a prolonged period can be dangerous to a person, it is unlikely to affect a large number of people who wear face masks.

"The CO2 will slowly build up in the mask over time. However, the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mast is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it," one representative for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

"You might get a headache, but you most likely would not suffer the symptoms observed at much higher levels of CO2. The mask can become uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, including sensitivity to CO2, and the person will be motivated to remove the mask. It is unlikely that wearing a mask will cause hypercapnia."

Research articles, along with experts, however, suggest that the extreme symptoms of hypercapnia and hypoxia are unlikely to reveal themselves to most people.

An epidemiologist and lecturer at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at University of New South Wales, Dr Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, said that the risk of the two conditions is doubtful with the use of cloth and surgical masks.

The rumours and claims surrounding it are partly false, as toxic amounts of carbon dioxide can be dangerous but unlikely to hit those that are wearing face masks. The extended use is also unlikely to produce the condition known as hypercapnia.

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