Background: Due to the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, medical face masks are widely recommended for a large number of individuals and long durations. The effect of wearing a surgical and a FFP2/N95 face mask on cardiopulmonary exercise capacity has not been systematically reported.
Methods: This prospective cross-over study quantitated the effects of wearing no mask (nm), a surgical mask (sm) and a FFP2/N95 mask (ffpm) in 12 healthy males (age 38.1 ± 6.2 years, BMI 24.5 ± 2.0 kg/m2). The 36 tests were performed in randomized order. The cardiopulmonary and metabolic responses were monitored by ergo-spirometry and impedance cardiography. Ten domains of comfort/discomfort of wearing a mask were assessed by questionnaire.
Results: The pulmonary function parameters were significantly lower with mask (forced expiratory volume: 5.6 ± 1.0 vs 5.3 ± 0.8 vs 6.1 ± 1.0 l/s with sm, ffpm and nm, respectively; p = 0.001; peak expiratory flow: 8.7 ± 1.4 vs 7.5 ± 1.1 vs 9.7 ± 1.6 l/s; p < 0.001). The maximum power was 269 ± 45, 263 ± 42 and 277 ± 46 W with sm, ffpm and nm, respectively; p = 0.002; the ventilation was significantly reduced with both face masks (131 ± 28 vs 114 ± 23 vs 99 ± 19 l/m; p < 0.001). Peak blood lactate response was reduced with mask. Cardiac output was similar with and without mask. Participants reported consistent and marked discomfort wearing the masks, especially ffpm.
Conclusion: Ventilation, cardiopulmonary exercise capacity and comfort are reduced by surgical masks and highly impaired by FFP2/N95 face masks in healthy individuals. These data are important for recommendations on wearing face masks at work or during physical exercise.
Keywords: Cardiopulmonary; Exercise capacity; FFP2/N95; Surgical masks; Ventilation.