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woman putting mask on in car

Why It’s Hard to Wear a Face Mask with Asthma

Reading time | 4 mins

Across the United Kingdom and most parts of Europe, it is now compulsory to wear a face covering in all shops, on public transport and anywhere that you are unable to maintain social-distancing guidelines.

I often hear people saying “EVERYBODY needs to wear a mask” and this has caused a lot of confusion, particularly for those of us living with a respiratory condition.

The difficulties when it comes to face masks and asthma

As someone living with severe asthma, the coronavirus pandemic has heightened my anxiety. When I was shielding and not going anywhere, at least I didn’t have to worry about face coverings. Now that shielding has been paused here in the U.K., I need to integrate myself back into the “real world” – and this means there are times when society expects a face covering.

Although the fact that I have asthma means I am exempt from wearing a face mask, I feel very nervous about not wearing one. Not only are face coverings there to protect others from you, but they also help to protect you from others. And this is essential if you fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category or have a weakened immune system.

As a result, I’ve had to compromise and have been trying many different types of face coverings to see what works best for me, depending on the situation I am in and how my lungs are that day.

When thinking of the classic mask, one automatically thinks of the surgical masks that medical staff wear. These can be very stuffy and difficult to breathe in. However, there are a number of different options of face coverings that I’ve tried:

  • Surgical Mask
  • N95 mask
  • Thin cotton neck warmer
  • Scarf
  • Synthetic mask (somewhere between wetsuit and swimsuit material)

I’ve found that there are pros and cons to all of these, so it’s just case of working out what works best for you and your asthma symptoms.

But what happens if I don’t wear a mask?

Due to the nature of severe asthma, I might feel fine wearing a face covering one day, but then the next day or just the next hour, I could be gasping for breath which makes wearing a face covering impossible.

However, not wearing a mask comes with its own set of problems.

When I go into a shop without a face covering, people look at me like I have the Black Plague. I can feel eyes burning into the back of my head and I can hear whispered (or not so whispered) voices commenting on the lack of a mask or the fact that I am young and so have no excuse not to wear one.

I was even confronted by a store assistant at the front door of a shop for not wearing a face covering. I fled to my car where I sat crying. I wanted to scream at the world and tell everyone how much effort I had put in just to get myself to the shop, only to be made to feel like I was in the wrong.

If only they knew. It took a lot of time to get over that experience and to gain confidence to go back out into the world again.

Later I spoke to a good friend about this particular situation and we both decided that because my chest was bad and I wasn’t feeling great, I had reacted more sensitively than I normally would have.

Now, when I overhear people talking about me and the fact that I am not wearing a mask, I try and rationalise it. I try to remember that everyone is scared and it’s only natural for them to jump conclusions when I’m in a shop without a mask on, or coughing because of my asthma.

No one should ever have to justify their actions to the public when it comes to their personal health battles, but due to COVID-19 everyone is very much on edge.

Going forward as the pandemic continues

I will always try and wear a face covering if I can, but for those days when I am unable to, I have bought myself a badge through a U.K charity that says “Mask Exempt”. These can also be downloaded online for free. This will hopefully allow those around me to understand that I have a valid reason for not wearing a face covering and that I’m not just flouting the rules.

Because it is hard being an asthmatic during this time. We want to protect ourselves and we want to protect each other, and face coverings are the best option to curb the spread of the disease right now. However, I need to do what is right for me at the time and not compromise my health in the process.

Hopefully, with a bit more education and understanding, others can be more sympathetic to those of us battling more than just COVID-19.

NPS-IE-NP-00093 October 2020