Face coverings safe in people with epilepsy, experts say

Published: July 20 2020
Last updated: September 28 2022

Face coverings – such as non-medical cloth or fabric face masks – are safe for the majority of people with epilepsy, experts say.

From 24 July, it will be a legal requirement to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England. It is already required for people to wear face coverings on public transport.

The government has described face coverings as something which safely covers the nose and mouth. This can include reusable or single-use face coverings that can be bought, or a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering that fits securely around the face.

The government says that face coverings are not the same as personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is more robust covering, such as surgical masks or respirators, and is used in medical or industrial settings.

Evidence has shown that face coverings can help slow the transmission of Covid-19 in indoor spaces where close contact with others is hard to avoid. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that this is not sufficient to control the virus, and maintaining social distancing when possible is still important.

While everyone will be required to wear a mask in shops from next week, the government has laid out a few exemptions. These include children under 11 years old or people for whom wearing face covering would cause severe distress. You can find the full list on the government website.

There is no clear evidence to suggest that wearing a face covering might not be safe for people with epilepsy.

According to Epilepsy Action, while some people might be concerned about face coverings restricting their breathing or making them overheat, this shouldn’t be an issue with non-medical face coverings made of breathable material. If someone finds that a mask makes them feel uncomfortable or anxious, it’s worth trying different ones to find one that is right for them, the organisation added.

Dr Rhys Thomas, consultant neurologist at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “People should wear masks according to government advice. For the vast majority of people, face coverings will be cloth or disposable face masks. I think we can be quite confident that these are safe for people with epilepsy and wouldn’t cause any harm if worn during a seizure.

“You can run in a mask and it doesn’t reduce the amount of oxygen getting in. We know from nurses and doctors doing operations that you can wear masks for many hours and it doesn’t make you dizzy or breathless.

“However, epilepsy is often associated with other conditions and people may need to be mindful of these other conditions themselves which may carry other advice. Also, if people with epilepsy need to wear a higher-grade face mask for any reason, such as work, they may need to seek individualised advice.”