Public Health and Primary CareORIGINAL ARTICLE

Effects of face masks on oxygen saturation at graded exercise intensities

Varnita Vishwanath, BSc; Clinnt L. Favo, MA; Trevyn H. Tu, MA; Blake Anderson, BS; Colby Erickson, MA; Megan Scarpulla, MA; Julia Kern, MA; Lisa DeWinter, MD; Anette Gawelko, DO; Charlotte Bolch, PhD; and Layla Al-Nakkash, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: June 30, 2022

Accepted: September 9, 2022

Published: October 20, 2022

  • Varnita Vishwanath, BSc, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Clinnt L. Favo, MA, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Trevyn H. Tu, MA, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Blake Anderson, BS, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Colby Erickson, MA, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Megan Scarpulla, MA, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Julia Kern, MA, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Lisa DeWinter, MD, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Anette Gawelko, DO, 

    Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Charlotte Bolch, PhD, 

    Office of Research & Sponsored Programs, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

  • Layla Al-Nakkash, PhD, 

    Department of Physiology, College of Graduate Studies, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA

Abstract

Context: Mask wearing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other viral infections may raise concerns on the effects of face masks on breathing and cardiopulmonary health. Non–evidence-based apprehensions may limit the use of masks in public.

Objectives: We will assess the parameters related to heart and lung physiology between healthy male and female adults exposed to wearing face masks (or not) under conditions of rest and graded exercise.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study including 20 male and 20 female adults who met our inclusion criteria. Adults with underlying respiratory and cardiac conditions were excluded. Physiologic parameters were measured while the participants underwent three activity levels (10 min each) in a randomly assigned order: rest, walking, and stair climbing. Each activity level was conducted under three mask conditions: no mask, surgical mask, and N95 respirator. Heart rate (HR) and blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) were recorded via pulse oximeter after each activity. Perceived exertion was recorded utilizing a Borg 15-point scale. A mixed-effects analysis of variance (ANOVA) was utilized to interpret the results.

Results: A significant increase in perceived exertion was reported for N95 users (p<0.0001). There was also a significant increase in mean HR for N95 users in comparison to no-mask users (p=0.0031). The mean SpO2 in females was higher than males under rest and walking conditions (p=0.0055). There was no change in SpO2 between mask type overall, nor between mask type vs. exercise intensity, nor between mask type and sex.

Conclusions: Our findings provide evidence that surgical masks and N95 respirators do not influence SpO2 at rest or during exercise.

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