Is not wearing a mask getting you ‘side-eye’?

It might not have the forceful furrowed brow of a stink eye, but a side-eye can certainly sting. It’s a new term ‘side-eye’, but 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 wearing a mask during the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria. What? Who wouldn’t wear a mask? 

Let us enlighten you. 

It’s okay not to wear a mask in public if you have a medical condition which makes it difficult to breathe with a mask on. Some people with asthma report this and in these circumstances, you would be excused for not wearing one. There are a number of other circumstances where a face covering is not required and you can check this out on the Victorian government’s website.  

For everyone else who can wear a mask without it impacting their health, they should follow public advice to do sothis includes people with asthma who are able to wear a mask without causing breathing difficultiesThe 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.1 Wearing a mask could be a game-changer in Victoria where hundreds of new cases are being reported each day. It does also offer some protection for the mask wearer.2 

But for some people with asthma, and others including those with physical disabilities and people with significant mental health disorders, wearing a mask can be problematic. We would encourage you to speak to your doctor about your asthma if you feel you fall into this category. It might be a sign your asthma control needs improving. There could be face coverings that you would feel comfortable wearing. Your doctor might work with you to solve the issues you face wearing a mask.  

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. 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 Melbourne and 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. 

If you have asthma and wearing a face mask causes breathing problems for you, you’re exempt from the requirement to wear a face mask in Melbourne or Mitchell Shire 

Will that stop side-eye? Probably not. 

Here’s what you can do. 

  • You can share this blog around to help with public understanding. 
  • You can try wearing a different face-covering like a loose scarf or bandana around your face and nose. 
  • 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. 

Otherwise, you might just need to be ready for side-eye. 

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. But if you have asthma and wearing a mask is a hindrance to your breathing, you are exempt. You can always see your doctor and ask for written evidence and keep with you, just in case.  


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

Head to the Victorian Government’s website for a full list of exemptions. 

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. 

In short, if you have asthma and it’s a hindrance to your breathing, don’t wear one. But 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. 

It’s also exempt for children below 12 years, persons for whom wearing a mask would affect their safety at work and during moderate to high-intensity exercise to name a few: see link for all exemptions: