No, Wearing a Face Mask Does Not Weaken Your Immune System
Argh! I am tired of hearing that wearing a face mask will either 1. Reduce your lung capacity, 2. Give you carbon dioxide poisoning or 3. Weaken your immune system and make you sick.
Let’s address the third one. The argument is that because a mask reduces the number of microbes coming into your body, it results in your immune system getting lazy.
So, let’s address this:
Do Masks Reduce the Microbes Entering Your Body?
This comes back to why we should be wearing masks:
You don’t wear a face mask to protect yourself. The reason we need to wear masks during the pandemic is because of asymptomatic and presymptomatic infection. You may have COVID-19 and not know it yet (or ever, until fully reliable antibody tests are widely available). The mask reduces the microbes you breathe out.
Yes, it does slightly reduce the microbes you breathe in, as it will block droplets in both directions.
On top of that, microbes enter our bodies by all kinds of other means. Every time we eat, every time we drink, every time we kiss our partner(s).
Wearing a mask, especially as most of us aren’t exactly wearing them all day, doesn’t really reduce your incoming microbial load. The N95 masks worn by hospital workers are an exception, but those aren’t designed to be worn for a long time anyway.
Does Lower Microbe Exposure Weaken Your Immune System?
Okay, let’s address this. The answer is, essentially: No.
Our immune systems are primed over extended periods of time, starting in the womb, continuing through colostrum (first milk) and then as we start to get exposed to all the common human conditions, such as colds.
Not being exposed to enough microbes as a child can affect your immune system, although most reports are anecdotal. But it doesn’t weaken it, it messes up how it gets programmed. The children of germaphobes tend to end up with more allergies.
So even if masks did lower your microbe exposure enough to make a difference, then the most likely effect is worse seasonal allergy symptoms.
So, no, wearing a mask won’t compromise your immune system and make you more vulnerable to COVID-19. Neither will staying home.
However, there is a growing body of evidence, albeit not fully scientifically studied, that areas where people wear masks more are experiencing lower COVID infection after stay-at-home orders are lifted.
And wouldn’t you rather wear a mask than have to go back into quarantine? (Yes, I realize some people can’t wear them. This isn’t for you).