Masks Deemed Safe for Asthma Patients


Oxygen saturation levels similar for both asthma patients and non-asthma patients following mask use.

Marissa Hodges, MD

Marissa Hodges, MD

Masks have become a key mitigation piece in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

However, there is some concern regarding the use of masks for individuals with asthma.

A team, led by Marissa Hodges, MD, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, assessed the safety of mask use at rest for asthma patients in data presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) 2021 Virtual Sessions.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends masks be worn in public settings and around members of different households for individuals 2 years and older, including asthma patients.

The Study

The study included 223 adult and pediatric patients attending appointments at the Michigan Medicine Allergy clinic between September 10, 2020 and October 23, 2020, 46% (n = 102) of which reported having asthma. Each patient voluntarily completed a survey reflecting their demographics, asthma diagnosis and perceived control, and mask type worn.

The researchers performed a pulse oximetry reading on the masked patient with respondents reporting their continuous duration of ask use prior to the measurement. They completed a descriptive analysis of frequencies and proportions to examine the data.

Oxygen saturation (SpO2) ranged between 93-100% among the patient subgroup with asthma, unchanged from the SpO2 range for patients without asthma.

After adjusting for gender, race, mask type used, or duration of mask use, the oxygen saturation did not change, with asthma patients who reported their perceived level of control (n = 100) having a similar mean SpO2 across all groups.

“Mask use at rest did not decrease SpO2 levels in patients with or without asthma, regardless of mask type worn, duration of mask use, or demographics,” the authors wrote.”SpO2 levels did not differ between those with perceived well-controlled and somewhat-controlled asthma.”

Mask Use

While mask use has dramatically increased in the general population since the beginning of the pandemic, many believe a high percentage of the population will continue to wear masks in public spaces even after the pandemic concludes to reduce the risk of influenza and other transmittable diseases.

The researchers believe the study could be used as a tool to prove to concerned asthma patients on the safety of masks.

The study, “Wear a Mask! Masks Don’t Affect Oxygen Saturation in Patients with Asthma,” was published online by AAAAI21.

Asthma and COVID-19

Recently, investigators from the Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) made a number of recommendations regarding asthma management and COVID-19, including the use of popular drug classes including inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs), nebulizers, and biologics among patients at risk of contracting the virus.

As they noted in their advisory, patients with asthma are actually not at greater risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 infection.

However, it is possible asthma may be linked to a higher risk of severe illness of death due to COVID-19 illness.

Though patients with asthma have not been overrepresented in multinational assessments of COVID-19 patients suffering from severe illness, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a greater-than-average fatality rate among patients with comorbid, chronic respiratory disease. Asthma has not been evaluated by the organization as an independent risk factor.

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