It might not have the forceful furrowed brow of a stink eye, but a ‘side-eye’ can certainly sting. It’s that sideways stare from a stranger, friend, or colleague that screams, ‘I’m judging you’ when you’re not doing something socially appropriate.

Right now, it’s not being able to wear a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic if you live in an area where it’s required.  We’d like to prepare you that ‘side-eye’ has the potential to graduate into verbal oversharing from strangers, which can be very confronting. But what? Who wouldn’t wear a mask in a pandemic?

Let us enlighten you.

For some people with asthma, and people with another physical illness, mental illness or disability, wearing a mask can be problematic. It’s okay not to wear a mask in public if you have a medical condition which is triggered when you wear a mask. Some people with asthma report this and in these circumstances, you are exempt from wearing one. There are several other circumstances where a face covering is not required, and you can check these out on your state government’s COVID-19 website if you live in an area where wearing a face mask is required.

For everyone else who can wear a mask without it impacting their health, they should follow public advice to do so, this includes people with asthma who are able to wear a mask without causing breathing difficulties. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to prevent the transmission of the virus between people, by blocking droplets spread from people who have the virus to others. Up to one-third of people with Coronavirus can feel well and not be aware they have it. Wearing a mask can help stop transmission and it does offer some protection for the mask wearer.

We would encourage you to speak to your doctor about your health condition if you feel you fall into the exempt category. For asthma, it might be a sign your asthma control needs improving. There could be face coverings that you would feel more comfortable wearing. Your doctor might work with you to solve the issues you face wearing a mask.

For everyone else, we should all hold back our judgement when we notice people who aren’t wearing one as there’s likely to be a good explanation for it. It may really affect their wellbeing. You know that old saying, making assumptions make a you know what…

It’s highly likely that people not wearing a mask, can’t wear a mask, and already feel awkward about that. So, don’t make it worse by judging them with side-eye.

If you live in an area where facemasks are mandated, you have a medical condition like asthma, and wearing a mask is hard for you and causes further difficulty with breathing, this is what you need to know.

Will that stop side-eye? Probably not.

Here’s what you can do.

  • You can ask your doctor about your asthma, where there’s a way to improve your health and not experience breathlessness or discomfort with a mask.
  • You can ask your friends and/or family to help you with your shopping or make use of online ordering.
  • You can check out our blog on tips to ease into wearing a face mask.
  • You can share this blog around to help with public understanding.

Otherwise, you might just need to be ready for side-eye, and the odd person who steps over the line. There have been many helpful developments to help people workaround the pandemic such expanded home delivery options from pharmacies and grocery stores, and we encourage you to look up options in your area.

And if you’re feeling bold, which we encourage, you can say – I have asthma and wearing a mask affects my breathing, but I’m glad you can wear one.


There are fines if you’re not wearing a mask and you don’t fall into any exemption category.


Checkout Asthma Australia’s website for information on how to manage a mask. 

Head to this page on facemask requirements in your state or territory.

Call our Asthma Educators on 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462).

A final word

Some people with asthma appreciate the security that comes with wearing a mask and the humidification of the air they breathe. Like all things with asthma, it’s not one size fits all.

For those people who feel comfortable doing so, wearing a mask in public could be a critical contribution to make to get back on top of this wicked virus.