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The mask you’re using could be hurting more than helping!

Those simple paper masks you see doctors and nurses using in a hospital setting are designed to prevent the wearer from spreading infection to others. It DOES NOT prevent the wearer from acquiring airborne infection from others.

Presently, the only mask recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to minimize the risk of acquiring a respiratory infection is a mask with an “N-95 rating,” otherwise known as an N-95 respirator. The rating indicates that this mask can filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, assuming the mask is fitted and used correctly.

An N-95 respirator is just one of the different types of disposable particulate respirators. These types of masks are the simplest and least expensive of the respirator types available. Particulate respirators are also known as “air-purifying respirators” because they protect by filtering particles out of the air. These masks should be NIOSH approved (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and properly fitted to the wearer. It is important to note that this type of mask is not effective for protecting against gases, fumes, chemicals, or vapors.

Some individuals with existing respiratory problems may find breathing through a mask difficult. However, there are many models to choose from, and you may be able to find one that best suits your individual needs and situation. 

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when choosing a mask and for assuring a proper fit: 

  • Determine the substances or conditions from which you desire protection and what mask is most effective for those specifications. 
  • Is the mask reusable, washable or disposable? Follow the manufacturer’s handling and cleaning procedures. 
  • Do not allow the mask to become wet or soiled. If this occurs, replace it. 
  • The mask should fit securely over your nose and mouth creating a seal. Check for unwanted gaps. 
  • Men with beards may have to shave or trim facial hair to achieve a good seal. 
  • The use of oxygen via nasal cannula may prevent achieving a tight seal. 
  • Do not allow the mask to obstruct your vision. Adjust the nose clip, if applicable. 
  • Adjust the straps for a snug, comfortable fit. 

The use of masks can be an option in promoting your personal safety by reducing the potential for exposure to irritating and harmful substances in the air. If you have an understanding of the need for protection and the types of masks available, you can choose appropriately for maximum protection and benefit.