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Wearing a face mask when you have asthma

A woman wearing a colorful face mask.

July 30, 2020—By now, most of us have become more used to the idea of wearing face masks in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But for people with asthma, who already have trouble breathing, wearing a face mask may not seem so easy.

Does that mean it's not worth doing? It depends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have trouble breathing shouldn't wear a face mask. So if you have severe asthma, it's OK for you to go without one.

If your asthma is mild or well-controlled, however, you may be able to tolerate a face mask just fine, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). And it's worth wearing one to protect the people around you.

Getting used to a mask

If you have asthma, there may be things you can do to make wearing a mask more comfortable. The AAFA and the American Lung Association offer these tips to start:

Practice at home. Give your mask short trial runs at home to let your body adjust to it. You might wear your mask while making dinner, for example. Later you could try a short walk to the mailbox.

Be creative. If your mask just isn't right for you, try a different fabric, style or fit. Look for a mask that's 100% cotton. You might also breathe better by tying a piece of fabric across your nose that hangs down freely. Even if it's not tight-fitting, some protection is better than none.

Think positive thoughts. Breathing through a mask will feel different. Start with a mindset of "I'm going to make this work" instead of "I'm never going to be able to do this."

When a mask isn't right

If your asthma won't allow you to wear a mask, you can still help stop the spread of COVID-19 in other ways. According to the AAFA and other experts, you may want to:

  • Stay home and avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.
  • Ask others to run errands for you instead of going out yourself.
  • Use delivery services when available.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others in public.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Have someone else in your household clean and disinfect for you, especially surfaces you touch often.

Moderate to severe asthma may put you at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. So be sure to continue to take your asthma medicine and follow your asthma action plan during the pandemic.

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