09 Oct Prolonged facemask use in the heat worsens dyspnea without compromising motor-cognitive performance
Morris NB, Piil JF, Christiansen L, Flouris AD, Nybo L. Prolonged facemask use in the heat worsens dyspnea without compromising motor-cognitive performance. Temperature (Austin). 2020 Oct 9;8(2):160-165. doi: 10.1080/23328940.2020.1826840. PMID: 33997114; PMCID: PMC8098073.
Background: Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO endorses facemask use to limit aerosol-spreading of the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, concerns have been raised regarding facemask-associated dyspnea, thermal distress and self-reported impairment of cognition. Accordingly, we tested how facemask-use affects motor-cognitive performances of relevance for occupational safety. We hypothesized that mask use would affect cognitively dominated performances and thermal discomfort, but not alter whole-body thermal balance. Methods: Eight participants completed a facemask and a barefaced (control) trial, in a counterbalanced order, in 40°C and 20% humidity conditions. Motor-cognitive performance, physiological (rectal, mean skin and local facial temperatures) and perceptual (thermal comfort and dyspnea) measures were assessed at baseline and following 45 min of light work (100 W). Results: Perceived dyspnea was aggravated with prolonged facemask use (p = 0.04), resulting in 36% greater breathlessness compared to control. However, no other differences were observed in motor-cognitive performance, physiological strain, or thermal discomfort. Conclusions: Contradicting negative self-reported impacts of facemask-use, only dyspnea was aggravated in the present study, thereby reinforcing global recommendations of mask use, even in hot environments. (Funded by: European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the grant agreement No 668786).
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