Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of the body’s respiration process, something we breathe in and out every day. Dancers obviously need more oxygen when their hearts are operating at elevated levels. And yet, here is the Shanghai Ballet taking class in face masks. How good, or harmful, can that be?
According to Health, a website, the dancers are okay:
In rare cases, it can actually be pretty dangerous, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They say that inhaling high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) may be life-threatening. Hypercapnia (carbon dioxide toxicity) can also cause headache, vertigo, double vision, inability to concentrate, tinnitus (hearing a noise, like a ringing or buzzing, that’s not caused by an outside source), seizures, or suffocation due to displacement of air.
But the emphasis here should be on high levels. “It has to be a pretty high concentration to be capable of causing harm,” Bill Carroll, PhD, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington, tells Health. “CO2 is present in the atmosphere at a level of about 0.04%. It is dangerous in an atmosphere when it is greater than about 10%.”
It’s also possible to have too little CO2. “This is when you exhale too fast or too often,” Dr. Carroll says. “If you hold your breath, you wind up with too much CO2. The core issue is that CO2 regulates the pH of the blood—too much CO2 and the blood becomes too acidic; too little and it becomes too basic (alkaline). In either case, your body detects the change in acidity and you pass out, which is the body’s way of saying, ‘please stop fooling with me and breathe normally.’”
Thank you, South China Morning Post, where Debra was dance critic in the 1980s.