Face masks are dangerous to the health of some Canadians and problematic for some others.
In recommending people wear masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, national chief public health officer Theresa Tam has also warned against judging those who can’t wear them.
“Be very aware of those with different types of cognitive, intellectual disabilities, those who are hearing impaired and others,” Dr. Tam said.
“Don’t assume that someone who isn’t wearing a mask or is wearing something different doesn’t have an actual reason for it.”
Asthma Canada president and CEO Vanessa Foran said simply wearing a mask could create risk of an asthma attack.
She said if a mask inhibits the ability of someone to breathe in any way, they recommend not wearing one.
Foran suggests asthmatics wear a mask in their home for 20 minutes to test their comfort level before venturing out, and also to head out in cooler weather.
“Wearing masks means breathing hot and humid air, so that can trigger asthma symptoms,” she said.
“We say if they cannot wear a mask, they must ensure they’re maintaining physical distancing and practising good hand hygiene.”
Foran said people with severe allergies might also find wearing a mask difficult at this time of year.
Autism Canada family support representative Dominique Payment said adults and children with the spectrum disorder have trouble with sensory processing, as well as tactile, olfactory and nervous-system hypersensitivity that wearing a mask could aggravate.
“It could cause some serious challenges,” she said. “Because their senses are so heightened, it affects everything.”
Payment has two children on the autism spectrum. One is anxious about masks because he associates them with having his teeth cleaned at the dentist, which he dislikes.
“Unfortunately this whole COVID situation and everyone wearing masks can cause some anxiety for these children because they are associating with not-so-positive experiences,” she said.
Payment said having children put a mask on a favourite stuffed animal, or choosing fabric colour and pattern for a mask, could help prepare them to wear one.
The deaf can’t read lips covered by an opaque mask, which also muffles sound for those who are hearing impaired.
Clovis Bernard wrote in a post on the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association website earlier this month that situations are difficult to navigate in this pandemic.
“The new reality is that it is recommended to wear a mask or a face covering while going out, to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus,” Bernard wrote.
“Unfortunately, it also covers up the faces that we rely so much on for understanding people.
“Maybe you are nervous about asking people to pull down their masks so you can understand them, but it is as if you are asking them to expose themselves to a health risk.”
He said in his experience, most people are more than willing to lower their masks for a quick second for you provided the circumstance is safe to do so.
The Alaska-based company Rapid Response PPE has developed face masks with clear shields so hearing-impaired people can see facial cues and lip movement.