The Effects of a Pandemic on Our Health: Masks

After digging deep into pandemic weight gain, diet, nutrition, physical activity, and exercise research over the past several days, there is only one more topic for this blog series: masks.

Now, we can sit here all day and debate the efficacy of different types of masks and how they’re warn in relation to the transmission of COVID. We can also discuss social responsibility and how masks have become a type of social symbol throughout the pandemic. But, we’re not here to stir the proverbial pot.

For this blog series, there are two mask-focused topics we are interested in. The first is the safety of masks during exercise. As our previous blog pointed out, maintaining a healthy level of physical activity and exercise during the pandemic is critical to maintaining optimal health overall. However, there has been much debate over the safety of potentially limiting one’s oxygen intake while exercising.

The good news is, several studies have been done testing various types of masks and various types of exercise. The general consensus is that masks are safe to use during even peak exercise. One study determined there is a significant ventilation reduction with mask use during exercise, but because the “ventilatory limitation is far from being reached” the masks are still very safe to use (Mapelli et al., 2021). Another study found that “heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and time to exhaustion did not differ significantly,” but they did discover an increase in carbon dioxide levels, which would not be detrimental to healthy adults (Epstein et al., 2020). The research team did recommend that adults with lung diseases should be evaluated before exercising with a mask on (Epstein et al., 2020).

The second focus for this blog today is, in our opinion, one of the most important aspects of mask wearing to healthcare professionals in particular, beyond overall transmission reduction, of course: communication concerns, especially with patients. Face masks in general reduce non-verbal communication by hiding facial expressions, they conceal tone and inflection, and can soften the speaker’s voice (Knollman-Porter & Burschnic, 2021). For elderly patients and those with hearing difficulties are even worse off during interactions with their healthcare providers during this time (Knollman-Porter & Burschnic, 2021). These challenges can leave patients with increased levels of anxiety, frustration during their visits, and potentially decreased quality of life or increased health related concerns if their frustration keeps them from attending appointments (Knollman-Porter & Burschnic, 2021).

Healthcare professionals who are constantly wearing masks may be getting so acclimated to wearing them that they forget patients are not so accustomed to it. Please, for your patients’ sakes, validate their frustrations if necessary, take extra steps to ensure the patient is able to hear and understand what you are saying, and attempt to use other non-verbal techniques to improve communication with your patients.

References

Epstein, D., Korytny, A., Isenberg, Y., Marcusohn, E., Zukermann, R., Bishop, B., Minha, S., Raz, A., & Miller, A.

(2020). Return to training in the COVID-19 era: The physiological effects of face masks during

exercise. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 31(1), 70-75.

https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13832

Knollman-Porter, K. & Burshnic, V. (2021). Optimizing Effective Communication While Wearing a Mask During the

COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 46(11), 7–11.

https://doi.org/10.3928/00989134-20201012-02

Mapelli, M., Salvioni, E., De Martino, F., Mattavelli, I., Gugliandolo, P., Vignati, C., Farina, S., Palermo, P.,

Campodonico, J., Maragna, R., Lo Russo, G., Bonomi, Al., Sciomer, S., & Piergiuseppe, A., (2021). “You can leave

your mask on”: effects on cardiopulmonary parameters of different airway protection masks at rest and during

maximal exercise. European Respiratory Journal, 57(6). DOI: 10.1183/13993003.04473-2020

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