It is not true that masks cause hypoxia. This hoax is now viral and dangerous

May 14, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

In 11 countries — Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Spain, Brazil and France — people are reading on social media that masks can cause hypoxia — a dangerous decrease in the oxygen level available to the body’s cells. This is a lie. A big one.

In the CoronaVirusFacts database, users will find that, between April 30 and May 13, at least five fact-checked articles have been published explaining that this risk does not exist, and that it is extremely important that people wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first fact-checking team to draw attention to this absurdity was Animal Político from Mexico. On April 30, the team used capital letters on its website to emphasize the  fact-check: “NO KIND OF FACE MASK WILL CAUSE  HYPOXIA.” And added: “Although it is true that face masks can generate unpleasant sensations, don’t worry, it is normal. Using face masks will not cause any kind of oxygen deficiency. In reality, hypoxia can only be caused by smoking, inhaling gases, or exposing yourself to high elevations — not by using mouthguards, masks, or filters.”

This hoax, however, spread throughout Latin America and reached Europe in fewer than two weeks. On April 4, AFP found the same falsehood circulating in Chile, Brazil and France, and its fact-checking team published an article listing two websites and six Facebook pages that had shared the misinformation in three different languages: English (1,2), Spanish (1, 2, 3, 4) and Portuguese (1, 2). Together, just the four posts in Spanish were shared 24,800 times on Facebook before AFP assessed them.

It is possible that the hoaxes detected by ColombiaCheck and Agência Lupa on April 7 have some connection to all previous content. However, the fact-checks published in Colombia and Brazil were based on  WhatsApp and Twitter posts — which proves that this hoax deserves maximum attention. It has jumped among countries, languages and platforms.

In Colombia, the falsehoods suggested that breathing repeatedly inside a mask “intoxicates the user,” causes “discomfort, loss of reflexes and conscious thought.” Therefore, only wear the mask   “if you have someone in front of you” and “lift the mask every 10 minutes.” All false, according to medical sources.

In Brazil, it said that “expired air is transformed into carbon dioxide” and that breathing it would cause dizziness. Not true.

So, before this hoax contributes to more infections or more deaths, share this alert with your network.

The World Health Organization recommends you use masks to protect yourself and others in the midst of the pandemic. It does not pose any risk to you. Disinformation and lies, on the other hand, can be very, very harmful.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

*Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

Comments

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  • Except there are peer reviewed studies that indicate otherwise. This is not a very good fact check.

    I got a very bad headache yesterday after doing our grocery shopping. I was in the store for an hour due to attempting to social distance while getting enough groceries for at least a week for our family of 6. I struggled.

    I will note that peer reviewed studies were conducted on OR staff while they were stationary and they suffered from deoxygenated oxygen sats. I am still looking for a study on masked people doing activities. I am going to look in OSHA documents next.

    Be a better fact checker.

      • No STANFORD DOES NOT BELIEVE MASKS REDUCE OXYGEN LEVELS THST MUCH. 2 engineers in non-mask technology fields made the comment. It was not a study. It does not represent Stanford. It was a comment backed up by no evidence.

    • For the simple fact that face mask were made mandatory at my job Monday, I can attest that those fact checks are not at all correct. I work in a factory, where I move vigorously. To wear a face mask for 10 hours a day and to only really remove it during breaks is ridiculous. Since this has been mandated, I’ve had an on going headache , dizziness, very disoriented.. i was just fine before all of this.

      • OMG all these anti mask posts are ridiculous. 1) People have been using n95 masks in multiple industries for years & years and it has NEVER been an issue.
        2) n95 masks might cause already lowly oxygenated people problems but the general public has no reason to wear a N95 mask to begin with.
        3) if your CLOTH mask is causing you problems, either you bought/ made one of the wrong material or you have it way too tight. (Yes, use a plastic bag as a mask and yes you will have problems, but a piece of cloth in front of your face? No.
        4) Masks in work settings have NEVER been an issue until 1) dumb conservatives who watch Fox news and listen to tRump make up these stupid reasons to cover the fact they are ignoring g science and don’t want to be told what to do and 2) do like the moronic anti-vaxxers by ignoring sound science and listening to morons in facebook.
        If you are wearing a mask at work and have those symptoms you are either already a heavy smoker,have asthma, are morbidly obese, or are imagining things. Get a clue you morobs.

    • OMG all these anti mask posts are ridiculous. 1) People have been using n95 masks in multiple industries for years & years and it has NEVER been an issue. IF MASKS WERE A HAZARD DO YOU THINK OSHA WOULD MANDATE THEN IN CERTAIN SITUATION, LIKE MOLD REMEDIATION.
      2) n95 masks might cause already poorly oxygenated people problems but the general public has no reason to wear a N95 mask to begin with.
      3) if your CLOTH mask is causing you problems, either you bought/ made one of the wrong material or you have it way too tight. (Yes, use a plastic bag as a mask and yes you will have problems, but a piece of cloth in front of your face? No.
      4) Masks in work settings have NEVER been an issue until 1) dumb conservatives who watch Fox news and listen to tRump make up these stupid reasons to cover the fact they are ignoring good science and don’t want to be told what to do and 2) do like the moronic anti-vaxxers by ignoring sound science and listening to morons in facebook.
      If you are wearing a mask at work and have those symptoms you are either already a heavy smoker,have asthma, are morbidly obese, or are imagining things. Get a clue you morons.

    • Looking for docs to justify not wearing masks? OSHA mandates n95 masks in fields such as mold remediation, which can be very physically demanding ( removing siding, lumber, flooring, etc). I don’t think you’re going to to find what you are looking for lol.

    • Uhm, you wouldn’t use blind testing to look for evidence of lowered blood oxygen levels while wearing masks. Patient bias will not affect blood oxygen levels lol. Stop throwing around research terms you don’t really know how to apply, it doesn’t make you look very informed.