The world we live in today seems like one of consistent fear. The Coronavirus is a constant, terrifying thought in our minds that we can’t help but create worst-case scenarios about. What if I get the virus? Could my grandparents get sick and end up in the hospital? I won’t get laid off because of the pandemic, will I? There are so many diverse what-ifs that can ignite fear in people, such as the concern of getting carbon dioxide poisoning from too much time with a mask on.

An impressive number of people believe wearing masks is more harmful than catching Covid-19, which results in them arguing against policies mandating masks and often spreading their distaste of mask-wearing on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It’s perfectly normal to have questions and concerns regarding unknowns about the pandemic, but it’s also good to make sure your information is logical, backed up by solid evidence, and not a way to fearmonger. Despite all the remaining unknowns with the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing we are sure of is that masks, although somewhat annoying and inconvenient at times, do not cause carbon dioxide poisoning.

What is Carbon Dioxide?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas created by burning things, gas bubbles in the ocean, and respiration. It is most often recycled in our atmosphere because plants absorb it in a process called photosynthesis, which is why we aren’t constantly getting poisoned by the air we breathe. However, in small or confined spaces, there is a chance that poor ventilation can lead to excessive amounts of carbon dioxide engulfing an area. Without immediate access to a plant, there is only one way that those CO2 particles can escape the area besides the vents; your lungs.

What Happens When You Breathe in too Much Carbon Dioxide?

In small amounts for a short period of time, there are little to no side effects of breathing in carbon dioxide. Considering it’s something your body often has contact with, it will surely not harm you in limited doses. Carbon monoxide– the gas that people often confuse with carbon dioxide– is something that you should avoid altogether, as it has more of a harmful effect on the human body in shorter increments of time. There is such a thing as too much CO2, often due to being exposed for too much time at too high of a potency. This can be caused by faulty house air conditioning, small indoor spaces packed with people, or maybe a weird sci-fi experiment to make our air taste like cotton candy gone wrong. Side effects of high exposure to CO2 include– but are not limited to:

● Restlessness

● Drowsiness

● Increased heart rate and blood pressure

● Sweating

● Headache

How Much is Too Much CO2?

Carbon dioxide levels are measured in units of ppm (parts per million), essentially identifying how many CO2 particles are in one million parts of air. Safe levels are anything underneath 1,500ppm, while 2,000ppm is where you will start noticing mild side effects. Obviously, the concern isn’t about mild reactions to this gas, rather what amount makes it deadly?

When you reach levels of 40,000ppm or higher, you are at risk for permanent brain and lung damage due to the deprivation of oxygen, which endangers putting you into a coma or even leading to death. In order to reach such an intense level of CO2 exposure, you would have to either be in a burning building filled with smoke, without any protective equipment, for an extended period of time, or even with equipment but for too long, in an airtight environment with no ventilation and limited oxygen, or comically hyperventilating into a paper or plastic bag (even after you briefly pass out).

The Effects of Wearing a Mask

Masks might seem like silent killers to some, but the reality is a lot less scary. The likelihood of a mask giving someone carbon dioxide poisoning is so incredibly low, you wouldn’t even be able to put a percentage to it. Health professionals wear these masks every single day. Even before Covid, they wore them to protect themselves and others from nasty contagions that they faced in their day-to-day lives. The worst that can happen from wearing a mask is slightly decreasing your oxygen levels, but not enough to do any harm. It is a valid concern for those not familiar with the science behind it, but it has been debunked many times. It would be best for all to become comfortable with their own masks and continue to help stop the spread by wearing them in public. We will get through this!

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