Prolonged wearing of a surgical face mask, made compulsory in many settings in many countries during the Covid years, reduces cognitive function and increases reaction time in addition to increasing shortness of breath and fatigue. These are the findings of a study published in Nurse Education in Practice, an international peer reviewed journal, on September 15th 2023.
The study, carried out in Turkey and titled ‘The effect of prolonged use of surgical masks during face-to-face teaching on cognitive and physiological parameters of nursing students: a cross-sectional and descriptive study’ involved 61 nursing students who volunteered to participate in the study. The sample size was determined to be adequate for the study using the statistical method of power analysis. Information was collected on cognitive fatigue and dyspnoea (shortness of breath) using a self-administered questionnaire and cognitive reaction time was measured objectively using an app. Body temperature and blood oxygen saturation were also measured.
The students were asked to complete the questionnaires and measure the above parameters at the start of a five-hour class and to repeat the process at the end. Surgical face masks were worn for the duration of the class. With the exception of blood oxygen saturation, all the remaining parameters were adversely and statistically significantly affected over the course of the class.