Study suggests children are breathing CO2 when wearing masks, experts say levels are not dangerous

Luz Pena Image
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Experts question study on CO2 levels in mask-wearing children
Journal of the American Medical Association published a research letter suggesting high levels of carbon dioxide detected in children wearing masks.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Journal of the American Medical Association published a research letter suggesting high levels of carbon dioxide detected in children wearing masks.

"There may be some increase in CO2, but that increase is not physiologically significant," said Dr. David Cornfield, Chief of Pulmonary, Asthma, and Sleep Medicine and medical director of respiratory therapy at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.

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According to the randomized clinical trial out of Germany after three minutes of mask-wearing, younger children reported high levels of carbon dioxide.

Dr. Cornfield says this could be attributed to multiple factors.

"It's important to recognize that it takes some time, a period of time to accommodate to the mask and maybe that's the case when kids were breathing more robustly when they first had the mask on," said Dr. Cornfield.

After seeing this data Dr. Cornfield says the CO2 levels reported are not dangerous.

"The physiological implications of that very subtle rise in carbon dioxide is not in my mind sufficient to be more important than the amount of safety that one gets from wearing a mask," said Dr. Cornfield

Luz Pena: "Could there be any health implications in the long term for kids wearing masks maybe when the school year begins in those prolonged hours?"

Dr. David Cornfield: "I personally do not believe there are any negative long-term effects from mask-wearing."

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The study included 45 children ages 6 to 17 years old (20 girls and 25 boys) and suggested early signs of high CO2 levels within minutes of mask-wearing.

"This carbon dioxide mixes with fresh air and elevates the carbon dioxide content of inhaled air under the mask, and this was more pronounced in this study for younger children."

We took this data to Dr. Deepak Srivastava, President of the Gladstone Institutes and pediatric cardiologist.

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"It's worth for further exploration," said Dr. Deepak Srivastava and added, "The wrong thing to do would be to draw conclusions from this small study that these levels of carbon dioxide are causing trouble."

Both Dr. Deepak Srivastava and Dr. Cornfield are skeptical about this study and say more research is necessary.

"CO2 levels are probably a bit higher when wearing a mask because you are breathing some of the air that you've exhaled. I can tell you physicians are wearing masks for 12 to 16 at a time. Before COVID surgeons would be doing surgeries for 18 hours at a time wearing a mask and they had no impairment," said Dr. Srivastava.

Dr. Srivastava emphasized the importance of vaccination and mask-wearing to best protect against COVID-19.

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"About a quarter of new cases are actually in children particularly with the Delta variant," said Dr. Srivastava.

The study also noted that it was done in a laboratory environment which could have contributed to this data collected.

"The limitations of the study were its short-term nature in a laboratory-like setting and the fact that children were not occupied during measurements and might have been apprehensive."

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