The following is adapted from an article published by the Italian pediatric Society specifically to address and reject false claims that masks worn to stop the spread of covid-19 harm children. Authors and sources appear at the foot of the article.
Facial masks may be one of the most cost-effective strategies to prevent the diffusion of Covid 19 infection. Nevertheless, fake news is spreading, scaring parents about dangerous but false side effects of masks in children, such as hypercapnia, hypoxia, gut dysbiosis and immune system weakness. The aim of the Italian Pediatric Society statement is to counter these misconceptions about face masks and to spread scientific, trustworthy information.
The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state face masks help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, masks may provide a barrier for potentially infectious droplets where physical distancing of at least three feet is not possible. In Italy, facial masks are required for children aged 6 months and over in closed public setting and whenever social distancing measures are difficult to maintain are important. The Italian Pediatric Society suggests facial mask protection also in children over 3 years old. In case of younger children, as well as of children affected by underlying diseases not compatible with a face mask protection, personal protective equipment should be used only by caregivers.
Nevertheless facial masks should be elastic to fit children’s faces and made by hypoallergenic and breathable material to avoid suffocation. Meanwhile, misleading claims about the health risks of face masks are spreading.
Some people state that face masks may be dangerous and even life-threating for children. Specifically, they say that wearing a mask may restrict their breathing, reduce the intake of oxygen and force children to breathe their own carbon dioxide, causing hypercapnia. As a consequence, children’s state of consciousness may be affected, causing hypoxia and leaving them feeling faint, light-headed, or “smothered.”
In fact, facial mask may be uncomfortable but they not have an impact on healthy children 3 years old and older. Surgeons daily wear face coverings for many hours without coming to harm.
Like the World Health Organization, the Italian Pediatric Society states that the prolonged use of medical masks, when properly worn, does not cause carbon dioxide intoxication nor oxygen deficiency in healthy children.
Masks can be effective in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 from person to person, avoiding droplets landing on the mouth or nose. Recent studies found out that surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals. The Italian Pediatric Society is involved in an awareness campaign to counter the misinformation that facial masks may trigger infections and cause disease.
The Lancet journal published the findings of an international research team that conducted a systematic review of 172 studies assessing the value of social distancing, face masks and eye protection as means of preventing transmission of three diseases caused by coronaviruses–Covid-19, SARS and MERS. Mass masking for controlling the virus is in our view a useful and low-cost adjunct to social distancing and hand hygiene during the Covid pandemic.
The Society recommends educating children wearing facial masks after properly washing hands, and substituting masks if they get dropped or wet.
Misconceptions and misinformation about the use of face masks may hinder the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic. The “anti-mask” deniers alert people to potentially harmful side-effects, publishing posts on social media which may be re-edited and shared several times, becoming viral. The Italian Pediatric Society is countering this fake news through different credible health authorities, such as WHO and CDC, and scientific reports. The Society promotes the use of masks among children, stressing that they are effective and necessary with proper use, along with other hygiene measures. Masks should be worn depending on the social situation, educating both children and parents on their appropriate use.
This article originally appeared in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics on Sept. 15, 2020, and was authored by Alberto Villani, Elena Bozzola, Annamaria Staiano, Rino Agostiniani, Antonio Del Vecchio, Nicola Zamperini, Francesco Marino, Davide Vecchio and Giovanni Corsello. See a pdf and fully sourced version of the article here. See a list of 22 studies on the effectiveness of facemasks in general as a low-cost measure to slow the spread of covid, here.