How well do face masks protect against coronavirus?

A detailed guide to face masks to protect you from covid-19 by differentiating the use and accuracy of respirator vs surgical

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Here is the guide to choosing the best masks for COVID-19.jpg

The world has been hit by the worst pandemic in over a century, COVID-19, and the pandemic shows no signs of abating ever since the outbreak of the virus was declared a global calamity in March 2020. The Coronavirus spreads through nose and mouth secretions when a COVID-19 positive patient coughs or sneezes with mouth and nose uncovered. According to the World Health Organization, the new mutations of the virus can spread at a much faster rate.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the best masks for COVID have become an absolute necessity for every person on the planet today. The face masks have proved to be an effective tool in preventing the virus from entering the body through cough or sneeze particles. Markets have now been flooded with various masks, and the most common ones are the surgical masks and the respirator N95 masks. But which face masks are the best and more effective? Let us find the answer to the important question as to which mask is best for COVID-19 in India.

What is a surgical mask?

In simple terms, surgical masks are disposable masks made of non-woven fabric that feels very paper-like. The surgical masks are thin and light. They are mostly available in blue and white colors. According to Aerosol Science and Technology (2013), surgical masks can filter out around 60% of the smaller particles that would otherwise have been inhaled. The surgical masks are primarily used for preventing droplets, splatters, and sprays from entering the human body through the nose or mouth. Wearing surgical masks regularly in public can reduce the spread of various respiratory diseases, including lungs infection.

The surgical masks are usually loose-fitting. The material is such that it does not give full protection from smaller particles present in the air that may carry viruses and bacteria. The most important thing to note about a surgical mask is that, ideally, it should not be used more than once. It is disposable, so once you have worn a mask or soiled it, you must dispose of it safely that day itself. The best way to dispose of a used mask is by putting it in a plastic or paper bag and then throwing it in the dustbin. Do not forget to wash your hands after you have treated the surgical mask.

What is an N-95 respirator mask?

N-95 respirator is the buzzword in the market today. The N-95 respirator is made up of non-woven polypropylene fiber and is regarded as the best respirator mask for COVID-19. In making the N-95 respirator, no oil particles are used, making it oil-resistant and fireproof. The “95” in N-95 means that the mask has 95% efficiency in fighting contaminants, including dust, fumes, and mists. The N-95 respirator can very effectively prevent particles of even 0.3-micron size. Some N-95 masks also have a respirator or valve-like structure that helps in easy breathing or exhaling.

The tight fit of the N-95 respirators helps in protecting the nose and mouth from small particulates present in the air. The N-95 masks can be re-used, but they should be removed from your face using a glove, and the mask should be kept in a separate plastic bag. The mask should also be cleaned after several uses. You should just make sure that your hands do not come into direct contact with an N-95 respirator, hence wear gloves and be safe.

In a nutshell, we were able to look a face surgical masks and N-95 respirators. But which one is better? Shall we compare both to see which is more effective in fighting germs? Let us go ahead and compare both types.

Comparing Surgical Masks and Disposable Masks

Herein, disposable masks refer to medical masks and N-95 respirators that can be discarded after using for a single time or specified number of times. Whereas surgical masks are worn by professionals like doctors and nurses in high-demand environments. Here is a comparison between surgical masks vs N-95 respirators for preventing COVID-19: -

  1. Surgical masks help in providing a barrier that protects from droplets, splash, sprays, and spatters. It also prevents large particles and viral outbreaks. With smaller particles, it can filter around 60% of the inhaled particles. Disposable masks like N-95 respirators can prevent 95% of the inhaled particles. They can protect our body from large particles, droplets, bacteria, viruses of up to 0.3-microns in size or more.
  2. Surgical masks are available at a lower price than N-95 respirators. But since the surgical masks are disposable and can be used a single time only, the reusable nature of disposable N-95 becomes more cost-effective as it can be re-used multiple times, and you do not have to keep on buying surgical masks.
  3. Surgical masks have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), and the N-95 respirators have been approved and tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  4. The surgical masks are loose-fitting, making the individual vulnerable to germs, whereas the close-fitting of the disposable N-95 respirator offers enhanced protection.
  5. The surgical masks do not have any valve or respirator that could help a person in exhaling easily. While the N-95 respirators have an external valve that helps a person exhale or breathe much more easily.

After comparing both the surgical masks and the N-95 respirator against each other, it is safe to conclude that the N-95 masks are more efficient and provide more protection in fighting against the Coronavirus than the surgical masks.

What should be your considerations while getting yourself an N-95 respirator?

Here are some important aspects which you must consider to select the best N-95 mask for COVID: -

  1. While buying an N-95 mask, the first thing that you should do is to make sure that it is N-95. That is possible by looking at the packaging of the mask and checking whether the N-95 mask has been certified by a trustworthy organization or not.
  2. Many individuals do not know this, but a proper N-95 mask will have an expiry date. You should check the packaging before buying. For health purposes, it is important to change your mask after a period.
  3. Make sure that the straps are properly attached to the mask. Check the main body of the N-95 respirator. There should be no holes or any tears.
  4. The N-95 mask you are purchasing should neither be too tight or too loose. It should not cause any difficulty in breathing. If you think the mask is causing a problem with your breathing, you should consider going for a better fit.
  5. It is safer to choose an N-95 respirator that does not have any external valve because then it is safer for the environment and the people near you. But if you need additional support for breathing, you can go for the external valve choice.

Difference between medical and non medical mask

When it comes to understanding the differences between medical and non-medical masks, the easiest way is to look at their usability. Medical procedure masks are generally intended for usage by professionals like doctors, nurses, lab technicians in high-risk environments. These masks offer better protection against viruses and bacteria. Their intended usage is as personal protective equipment. On the other hand, non-medical masks are meant for the general public who are not exposed to high-risk environments. These masks also offer protection against pollution and can be used outside hospitals where the risk of exposure to bacteria and viruses is low.

Are homemade/clothing masks good?

Due to an incredible increase in the demand for face masks, the supply started falling short of the demand. This shortfall has been met through homemade masks or cloth masks. When combined with social distancing, a homemade cloth mask can help reduce the pace of the spread of COVID-19. These masks reduce the spread of virus and bacteria by blocking droplets of sneezes and coughs. But it is important to remember that these homemade masks are not as effective as surgical masks and will not offer the desired level of protection in high-risk environments.

Wearing a proper mask in the present situation can be the difference between life and death. Hence, do not adopt a callous attitude towards face masks. Ensure you get high quality and proper-fitting mask that conforms to the prescribed standards to enjoy superior protection against the COVID-19 virus.


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