AUSTIN, Texas — Every summer the heat returns to Central Texas, forcing people to look for ways to stay cool. However, unlike year's past, this year's warm-weather style is now topped off with a mask. This has left some people questioning if wearing masks in extreme temperatures compromises their safety.
When it comes to heat-related illnesses, Dr. Ryan McCorkle, an emergency medical physician with St. David's Medical Center, said wearing a mask is safe.
"They should absolutely be worn," McCorkle said. "There's more danger not wearing a mask than from wearing a mask."
McCorkle said it is natural for some people to feel anxious or uncomfortable in the heat when a mask covers their airway. However, he explained it does not impede your breathing.
"Anxiety can be triggered by people feeling like they are closed in by that, but you don't retain carbon dioxide – there is good gas exchange," said McCorkle.
While wearing a mask may be uncomfortable, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it does not result in oxygen deficiency. Still, there are steps to take to make the experience more comfortable.
"Make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not reuse a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp," the organization stated.
The WHO does not recommend wearing a mask when exercising.
"Sweat can make the masks become wet more quickly, which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms," the WHO stated.
It recommended exercising without masks in an area where 6 feet of distance between people can be maintained at all times.
Texas does not require residents to wear masks; however state leaders highly encourage it whenever possible.
According to the City of Austin's guidelines, residents are not required to wear a mask if "doing so poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, such as anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance."
But the city guidelines do require individuals to wear a mask outside if social distancing cannot be consistently maintained.
Dr. McCorkle said his emergency department has not had patients come in complaining of heat-related illnesses due to masks specifically. However, the heat in general can become a problem if people do not take care of themselves.
The body regulates heat in many ways and is most impacted by what someone wears on the top of their head, their bodies and how they hydrate, he added. Managing these factors are important when outside spending time in the sun.
To prevent this, dress in loose-fitting and light-colored clothing, avoid wearing black/dark colors outdoors and hydrate consistently. If the heat starts causing issues, he recommends finding shade outdoors or an air-conditioned room, and slowly re-hydrating.
"You don't want to be gorging on large amounts of water because that can make your stomach upset and you start to vomit. That can make things worse," McCorkle said.
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