Should I wear a face mask or face covering?

Information and advice on face masks and face coverings, including an exemption card for people with breathing problems.

The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly developing situation and the most up-to-date information for people in the UK can be found on the NHS website.

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 the spread of COVID-19.

The governments of all UK nations are now recommending, and is some cases making it the law, that people wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, where:

  • social distancing may not be possible
  • you may come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

This includes shops, public transport and hospitals.

Do I have to wear a face covering if I have asthma?

Most people with asthma, 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.

Some people with asthma tell us that face coverings can make breathing feel more difficult, which might be uncomfortable. It’s a good idea to try wearing a face covering at home, or on a short walk around the block first. It might not feel comfortable straight away, so give it a chance.

You can also experiment with different types of mask – some are easier to wear than others. Sometimes the feeling of wearing a face mask might take a bit of getting used to, but trying different types and starting with short periods of time can help you feel more comfortable.

There isn’t a blanket rule about face covering exemptions for everyone with asthma. But if you find it impossible to wear a face covering for health reasons, you don’t have to wear one. An example of this might be if a mask makes you too breathless.

Our advice and exemption card applies to wearing a face covering in public. If you need advice about wearing a face covering at work, have a conversation with your employer. You might need to do this if you’re exempt from wearing a face covering for health reasons, but your employer says you have to wear one.

You can use HSE guidance on face coverings at work, as well as the latest government guidance on exemptions, to help you do this.

Wearing a face covering at school or college

There is different advice across the UK for pupils and teachers about wearing face coverings in schools. Evidence from the World Health Organization says that children aged 12 and over should wear a face covering under the same conditions as adults, in situations where social distancing isn’t possible.

However, exemptions still apply. If your child finds it impossible to wear a face covering, they do not have to wear one and shouldn’t have to routinely prove their exemption. The rules are different across the UK, so find out what they are in your area:

Face coverings rules for England schools

Face coverings rules for Northern Ireland schools

Face coverings rules for Scotland schools

Face coverings rules for Wales schools 

If your child is worried about wearing a face covering, it’s a good idea for them to practise wearing a face covering at home. But if they find it impossible to wear one, make sure they understand that they don't have to wear one. You might also need to explain this to your child’s school.

Is a particular type of face covering better for people with asthma?

We don’t recommend any particular type of face covering for people with asthma. It’s a question of finding one that’s most suitable for you, if you can wear one. You might have to try out a few different types to find one that’s comfortable.

Read more on when to wear a face covering and how to make your own.

Travelling without a face covering

The following bus and train companies have face covering exemption cards, which you can print out and take with you on your journeys:

Arriva exemption card
First Bus/First Group exemption card
Nexus journey assistance card
Stagecoach face covering journey assistance card
Transport for London exemption card

If you need to travel with any other transport provider, we recommend contacting them well in advance of your journey and discussing your options with them.

Arriva and Transport for London can print and post cards to people who do not have a smartphone or a printer.

Download a face covering exemption card or badge 

Callers to our helpline who struggle to wear a face covering have told us they’re worried about being publicly confronted or fined for not wearing a face covering.

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.

However, some people may feel more comfortable showing an exemption card, badge or home-made sign that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This is a personal choice and you don’t have to do this under the law.

We have a downloadable card below that you can show on your phone or other device that explains why you're not wearing a face covering. Please note we cannot print out and send this card to you.

You can also download or print out an exemption card or badge from the England government’s website. England government’s exemption card and badge.

Please only use an exemption card if you really can’t wear a face covering because it makes it difficult to breathe, or causes panic or distress.

In Wales, it’s recommended that you carry something that shows your exemption, such as an exemption card or appointment letter.

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Last updated on: Wednesday 16 September 

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