ATLANTA - Wearing cotton face masks is quickly becoming the new “normal” for many of us.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people age 2 and older wear cloth facial coverings in public settings in which staying 6 feet apart from others is difficult.
Nina Bausek, Chief Scientist for PN Medical, a company that produces respiratory muscle training devices, says while masks can slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, they can also throw off our breathing.
"What happens when you put on the mask, the body has a biological response,” Bausek says. “It has a response of breathing quicker, more rapid."
If your breathing becomes shallow, she says, that can lead to hyperventilation, a state in which you are breathing harder but not getting enough oxygen.
"That can lead to headaches, to dizziness, to loss of concentration, and that's really important, especially if you have to wear a mask while working, or going to school,” Bausek says.
When your breathing is thrown off, that can also make you feel more anxious, Bausek says.
“If you've got anxiety, your breathing pattern goes wrong even more,” she says. “So, it's a bit of vicious cycle that you go into, when you start wearing a mask."
PN Medical has created a breathing technique for mask wearers the company calls "Take 5.”
Bausek explains how it works.
"We want you to take 5 quality breaths before you put the mask on,” she says. “Then, take 5 quality breaths when you have the mask on. Then, as soon as you take the mask off, take 5 quality breaths again."
A "quality" breath, is a four-step process:
- inhale for 4 seconds through your nose
- exhale for 6 seconds through your mouth
- pause for 2 seconds
- repeat the exercise
Doing this 5 times, Bausek says, will help re-set your breathing pattern.
And, if your breathing becomes shallow during the day, while you're wearing your mask, try the exercise again.
"Just go back and take 5 breaths, 5 quality breaths,” Bausek says. “The more often you do it, the more it will become a habit."
She recommends taking breaks during the day to take your mask off, when it is safe to do so.
If you have to wear a mask at the gym or during your workout, Bausek says, take it easy.
"Keep it to really low cardio exercises, like walking,” she says. “We really don't recommend a peak exercise where you're breathing heavily through the mask."
Bausek says stabilizing your breathing with their "Take 5" technique will take some practice.
"If you do that, you should reset the breathing pattern, and let your body know that you can breathe properly while wearing a mask,” she says.