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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Should I wear a face covering?

On this page, we explain the guidance on wearing face coverings across the UK, what the exemptions mean and the type of face covering you should wear.

Wearing a face covering reduces the risk of spreading infection and protects people you come into contact with. COVID-19 spreads through small droplets and aerosols – evidence suggests that correctly wearing a face covering reduces the spread of coronavirus droplets.

On this page:

When do I have to wear a face covering?

Across the UK, you must wear a face covering in shops and on public transport (such as trains, buses and taxis), unless you are medically exempt. Depending on where you live in the UK, there may also be other situations or places where wearing a face covering is mandatory. Read the full guidance on face coverings if you live in:

We strongly encourage everyone who can wear a face covering should do so, in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible or when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

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 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. In cooler weather, and in places with air conditioning, wearing a face covering might feel easier. Bupa has an article on coping with face mask anxiety, which you might find useful to read through.

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 four nations have said you don’t have to wear one, whatever the situation.

What face covering should I wear?

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. If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please do not use a mask designed for clinical use. The NHS needs these supplies.

Face visors or shields may be worn in addition to a face covering, but not instead of one. This is because they do not adequately cover the nose and mouth.

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.

How can I explain my exemption?

Face coverings are mandatory in some situations.

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. In Scotland, you can apply for an official exemption card from the government. The Welsh government has also created an exemption card you can download or print out.

Unfortunately, we can’t print and send out the graphics to you. Please only use this card if you can’t wear a face covering because it makes it difficult to breathe.

Download our face covering exemption graphic (JPG 150KB)

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

I feel anxious about other people not wearing face coverings

We understand that for some people, the thought of being around people not wearing a face covering may be worrying. You might not know how to talk to your family, friends, or colleagues about why you are still wearing a face covering in situations where it’s not mandatory, like cafes or restaurants, and why you’d like them to continue to do so as well. We’ve prepared some conversation starters to help you navigate situations related to face coverings, social distancing and meeting up with friends and family. Take a look at our advice.

If you work in a public facing job, you might be concerned about coming into contact with members of the public who aren’t wearing masks. In the first instance, we recommend having an open conversation with your employer about any reasonable adjustments that could be made so you feel safer in the workplace. You should also ask what the rules on wearing face coverings will be in your workplace – some places may still be asking people to wear face masks if they can, even if the government has said it’s not a legal requirement.

What you can read next:

Last updated: Tuesday 30 November 2021


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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 2021. Due for review: November 2021

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.