Face masks will not cause pleurisy, experts say
CLAIM: Wearing a face mask for extended periods of time can cause pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining around the lung.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Multiple experts told The Associated Press there is no medical evidence that wearing a face mask could lead to pleurisy.
THE FACTS: In early July, Facebook posts were circulating with claims that wearing a face mask for more than eight hours a day could lead to a harmful lung condition called pleurisy.
“Be careful healthy people, shared from a friend,” read one Facebook post, which described a story of a healthy 19-year-old frontline grocery store worker who started feeling sick and was diagnosed with pleurisy.
The post continued, “They basically tell her.. It’s because she’s been wearing a mask for over 8 hours a day 5-6 days a week. Breathing in her own bacteria. Carbon dioxide.. Caused an infection.”
Facebook users nationwide copied and pasted the same language for other posts, which went viral. The identity of the person in the description was unclear.
Another Facebook post featured a diagram of a lung with an inflamed lining. The caption claimed that wearing a mask can result in the painful condition.
“Result of wearing mask for 8 hours a day,” the post read. “Why are they not reporting the number of people being hospitalized for this?? YOU NEED FRESH AIR.”
But doctors who study the respiratory system say a face mask doesn’t pose this risk.
“There is absolutely no truth in that claim,” said Humberto Choi, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, in an email. “There are thousands of health care workers wearing face masks everyday including masks that are much tighter than simple surgical masks. Nobody is getting pleurisy because of that.”
Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association, said the claims are “a reach” and have been debunked.
“I don’t see a medically plausible mechanism for mask wearing to cause pleurisy,” he said.
Fears around the safety of wearing a face mask have exploded in recent weeks as different states and municipalities have issued mandates to wear masks amid the spread of COVID-19.
However, as the AP has reported, claims that mask-wearing leads to harmful conditions, including bacterial and fungal infections, pneumonia, hypercapnia and other ailments, are false.
That said, according to Choi, there are some things people need to be aware of in order to continue to wear masks safely. They need to throw away disposable masks after use, and clean reusable cloth masks regularly. They should also wear masks correctly — they should avoid touching the outside layer once the garment is on, and it needs to cover both the mouth and nose at all times.
“Wearing a face mask is safe,” he said. “Yes. If the mask is soiled with toxins or contaminated with virus or bacteria, it can be bad for you. Just wear a clean one. And wear it correctly.”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536