Downsides of face masks and possible mitigation strategies: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Mina Bakhit, Natalia Krzyzaniak, Anna Mae Scott, Justin Clark, Paul Glasziou, Chris Del Mar

Research output: Other contributionDiscipline Preprint RepositoryResearch


Objective To identify, appraise, and synthesise studies evaluating the downsides of wearing facemasks in any setting. We also discuss potential strategies to mitigate these downsides.
Methods PubMed, Embase, CENTRAL, EuropePMC were searched (inception-18/5/2020), and clinical registries were searched via CENTRAL. We also did forward-backward citation search of the included studies. We included randomised controlled trials and observational studies comparing facemask use to any active intervention or to control. Two author pairs independently screened articles for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the quality of included studies. The primary outcomes were compliance, discomforts, harms, and adverse events of wearing facemasks.
Findings We screened 5471 articles, including 37 (40 references); 11 were meta-analysed. For mask wear adherence, 47% more people wore facemasks in the facemask group compared to control; adherence was significantly higher (26%) in the surgical/medical mask group than in N95/P2 group. The largest number of studies reported on the discomfort and irritation outcome (20-studies); fewest reported on the misuse of masks, and none reported on mask contamination or risk compensation behaviour. Risk of bias was generally high for blinding of participants and personnel and low for attrition and reporting biases.
Conclusion There are insufficient data to quantify all of the adverse effects that might reduce the acceptability, adherence, and effectiveness of face masks. New research on facemasks should assess and report the harms and downsides. Urgent research is also needed on methods and designs to mitigate the downsides of facemask wearing, particularly the assessment of alternatives such as face shields.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.Funding StatementThe present systematic review was conducted as part of the work of the Centre of Research Excellence in Minimising Antibiotic Resistance in the Community (CRE-MARC), funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia (grant reference number: GNT1153299). The funder had no involvement in this systematic review.Author DeclarationsI confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained.YesThe details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below:No ethics approval requiredAll necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived.YesI understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance).YesI have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable.YesNo further data available


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