Coronavirus and COVID-19

Should I wear a face covering?

Wearing a face covering may reduce the risk of spreading infection by protecting people you come into contact with. Face coverings do not replace social distancing or handwashing, but combining all these measures gives us the best chance of preventing COVID-19.

If you can, you’re encouraged to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible or when you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

Wearing a face covering is mandatory in some situations. Read the full guidance on face coverings if you live in:

Do I have to wear a face covering if I have a lung condition?

  • most people with a lung condition will be fine wearing a face covering
  • some people will find wearing one uncomfortable but can get used to it with practice. Face coverings are not harmful to people wearing them
  • a few people with a lung condition will find that face masks increase their sensation of breathlessness to the extent they can’t tolerate wearing one

Most people with a lung condition, even if it’s severe, can manage to wear a face mask for a short period of time, and shouldn't worry if they need to wear one. Wearing a mask does not reduce a person’s oxygen supply or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide. You may have read stories that say that it can, but this isn’t true. 
Face coverings can make breathing feel uncomfortable. This is mostly because they trap heat. As the weather gets cooler, and in places with air conditioning, wearing a face covering might feel easier.

It’s a good idea to try out wearing a face covering at home – it might not feel comfortable straight away, so it’s worth wearing one for short intervals around the house to try and get used to wearing one. You can also experiment with different types of covering. The feeling of wearing one might take time to get used to, but trying different types and starting with short periods of time can help you feel more comfortable. 

Just having a lung condition doesn’t make you exempt from wearing a face covering. But if you have a lung condition that makes you breathless and find wearing a face covering makes you feel too breathless, the governments in all 4 nations have said you don’t have to wear one, whatever the situation.

If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please do not use a mask designed for clinical use. The NHS needs these supplies. We don’t recommend a particular type of face covering for people with lung conditions, so it’s worth trying out different coverings that cover your mouth and nose to find one that’s best for you. Read how to make your own cloth face covering. Make sure you wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. Cloth coverings should be washed after every use and disposable masks disposed of responsibly.

Will I be fined for not wearing a face covering?

We know people are worried about being fined or publicly confronted for not wearing a face covering.

To help explain why you’re not wearing a face covering, we have created a downloadable graphic (JPG 150KB) you can show on your device or print out. The government in England has created their own exemption cards you can save to your phone or print out. Unfortunately, we can’t print and send out the graphic to you.

In England , Northern Ireland and Scotland, the governments have said people who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to prove their exemption. In Wales, it’s recommended you carry something that shows your exemption, such as an exemption card or appointment letter. 

This card should help support you when entering shops and supermarkets, and when you’re on public transport. Retailers and transport providers have been told to respect exemptions. However, entry is at the discretion of staff. We will continue to work with the government to clarify how people with lung conditions who struggle to wear a face covering can identify themselves.  

Please only use this card if you can’t wear a face covering because it makes it difficult to breathe. Our advice and exemption graphic applies to wearing a face covering in public. If you’re concerned about wearing a face covering in the workplace, we encourage you to talk openly with your employer about your health concerns. You should use HSE and the latest government guidance on exemptions to have that conversation.


Download our face covering exemption graphic (JPG 150KB)

Download our face covering exemption graphic in welsh (JPG 240KB) 

We also know that many bus and train companies are offering their own exemption card which you can print and take with you, or have said customers using their service will not need to prove they’re exempt. For example:

We recommend getting in touch with your transport provider in advance of your journey to discuss your options.

What you can read next:

Last updated: Thursday 17 September 2020

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We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: November 2020. Due for review: November 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.