Breathing with a Mask
Updated: Aug 14
By Davi Brown
It is common today for people to experience feelings of discomfort as we incorporate masks into our daily life. Not only can wearing a mask be physically uncomfortable, but it can also cause an increase in Carbon Dioxide in the blood. Carbon Dioxide is not just waste gas, and increasing our tolerance to higher levels of it can have many benefits.
In 1904 a danish physician named Christian Bohr discovered a process we call the Bohr Effect, which reveals the role of CO2 in our ability to utilize Oxygen. The Bohr reveals that once our blood picks up Oxygen in our lungs, Carbon Dioxide catalyzes the release of Oxygen into the body. With this in mind, higher levels of CO2 increase our Oxygen uptake. When we can tolerate higher levels of Carbon Dioxide, we use Oxygen more efficiently.
Why does this matter when wearing a mask
Wearing a mask increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and body because as we exhale into the mask, it pools there. There is a paradox here because as we slow down our breath and increase our levels of Carbon Dioxide in the blood, we utilize Oxygen more effectively. Still, the process of acclimating to these higher CO2 levels can send discomforting signals to the body. These signals can include feelings of anxiety, shortness of breath, and dizziness, similar to feelings people have when they are acclimating to higher altitudes.
The increase in CO2 paired with general feelings of anxiety or discomfort can cause us to react by speeding up our breath, breathing through our mouth, and even hyperventilating, which will only escalate the pain and stress.
Tips and suggestions for keeping yourself safe and comfortable while wearing a mask
What we are saying here is that tolerating higher levels of CO2 has beneficial effects on our utilization of O2, but the acclimation to these higher levels can be uncomfortable. So what can we do to make this easier?
Breathe through your nose as much as possible. The nose filters and humidifies the air before it enters our lungs, and releases nasal Nitric Oxide into the body. Nitric Oxide is a molecule that has shown to reduce the severity of Covid19.
Incorporate slow, diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day, especially when you are wearing your mask. We suggest a 4 second inhale and a 4-6 second exhale.
Incorporate a daily breath practice to train your respiratory system.
Take Breaks! Start slowly by wearing a mask for 10 minutes at a time and find moments throughout the day to take your mask off and practice slow deep breathing safely.
*There are exceptions to this, and it is possible to be experiencing unhealthy levels of Carbon Dioxide or Oxygen so, always be careful and aware of your own body. You can keep apulse oximeter around to check in on your oxygen levels throughout the day.
Martel J., Ko Y.F., Young J.D., Ojcius D.M. Could nasal nitric oxide help to mitigate the severity of COVID-19?