With face coverings set to become mandatory on public transport as part of phase 3 of the easing of COVID restrictions, the Asthma Society of Ireland is calling for understanding for those who cannot wear them due to breathing difficulties.
Last week, it was confirmed that face coverings would be made mandatory on public transport during phase 3 in order to allow capacity to increase. Details on how this will be policed and what the sanctions are have not yet been provided.
However, the society is calling on the new Government to insert explicit exemptions into any regulations for people with chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It explained that people with these conditions can struggle to breathe when active, and when they are out and about, they may find that face coverings further impede their breathing.
Furthermore, for those who have a history of asthma attacks, face coverings may exacerbate symptoms of anxiety - a common experience for people with asthma and COPD.
According to the CEO of the society, Sarah O'Connor, for asthma and COPD patients, the feeling of struggling to catch a breath is very familiar and "one they strive every day to avoid".
"It's a very frightening experience. While exercise can be an effective way of managing asthma, patients can find themselves short of breath when they're walking or active for extended periods.
"While some face coverings are safe for some asthma and COPD patients, it is important that exceptions are made for those for whom they are not safe or who feel they are not safe," she commented.
The society noted that it has experienced an "unprecedented surge" in demand for its supports and services since during the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent days, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking advice on face coverings.
According to Dr Dermot Nolan, asthma lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners and a member of the society's medical advisory group, most people with asthma and COPD can wear face masks, "but they mustn't be pressured into doing so if their breathing is affected".
"They must also be careful not to buy or use a face covering with a fabric that can trigger an exacerbation, or that contain harsh chemicals or sterilisers," Dr Nolan said.
The society is calling on the Government to ensure that regulations relating to face coverings include explicit exemptions for people with respiratory diseases, "and that public campaigns promoting their use make these exemptions clear".
"We implore those enforcing any such regulations to be cognisant and respectful of our most medically vulnerable populations. And we encourage members of the public to show understanding and patience when they see people who are not wearing face coverings on public transport or in retail outlets," Ms O'Connor said.
People with concerns about their asthma or COPD can message the society's new Beating Breathlessness WhatsApp patient support service, which allows people to chat with a respiratory specialist nurse to get support, advice and information about asthma, COPD, COVID-19 and hay fever. This free service is available on 086 059 0132.
People who would prefer to speak directly to a nurse can call the society's free Asthma and COPD Adviceline on 1800 44 54 64.
For more information on the society, click here.
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