As the United States experiences a massive surge in coronavirus cases, it becomes more important than ever to wear face masks to protect oneself and other people. It is therefore essential that you wear protective and reliable masks, and wear them correctly. There are different kinds of face masks that you can wear but the most reliable is the N95 mask.
The N95 mask, which is also known as the N95 respirator, is a disposable face mask that filters at least 95% of airborne particles. This means that when it is properly worn, a minimum level of particles passes through the edges of the N95 mask. The authenticity of an N95 mask is determined by the United States’ National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). An authentic N95 mask should be marked with the NIOSH logo, or the text “NIOSH”.
For many people, the coronavirus pandemic saw that they made use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks for the first time so it is expected, and even understandable, that people would not know how to properly wear them. Since that is the case, how do you know that you’re wearing your N95 mask correctly? When worn correctly, an N95 mask serves as a seal between your face and your environment; there should be no gap between your skin and the mask’s seal. The N95 masks is not looped over the ears; rather, there are two straps which fit around the back of the head and the neck.
A properly-worn N95 mask should not leak air when you exhale. Also, it should not be tight and uncomfortable because it can give you a headache – especially if you wear it for a long period of time.
Step-by-step Guide to Correctly Wearing an N95 Mask
- The first step is to wash your hands before putting on the N95 mask. This requires soap and clean water; after which you should dry your hands to avoid contaminating the mask before you put it on. The hand-washing process should last at least 30 seconds.
- The next step is for you to select an N95 that fits your face comfortably (bear in mind that the N95 masks are available in different adult sizes and models) and hold it in the palm of your hand. You should place the mask firmly over your nose, mouth and chin – and if your N95 respirator has a metal bar or a nose cushion, ensure that you place that end over your nose and not your chin area. The N95 mask should fit over the bridge of your nose and the bottom should extend to just under your chin. Even though you washed your hand, try to ensure that your hands and fingers do not touch the inner part of the mask.
- If your N95 mask has 2 straps, pull the bottom one over your head and strap it around your neck – just below your ears. While you maintain your hold on the N95 respirator, pull the other strap and place it above your ears.
- Adjust the position of the N95 mask by placing your hand on each side of the mask and tilting it to the left, right, up or down to make it an optimal fit for your face.
- You can then mold the nose piece around the bridge of your nose. If your mask has a metal piece, you can place two fingers on either side of the metal piece then gently mold it to your nose and cheeks. On the other hand, if your N95 mask does not have a metal nose piece, you just have to ensure that it fits snug against your nose.
- The next step is the user seal check which lets you know if your N95 mask is a good fit for your face, and if it has been worn correctly. Place both hands over the N95 respirator but do not shift its position, then inhale. Exhale sharply and take note of air leakage through the nose piece or around the edges of the mask. If you feel air leaking from the edges of the mask, you need to adjust the position of the head straps. On the other hand, if the air leaks from the nose area you should re-mold the nose clip to secure the seal of the mask against your nose. If these do not remedy the problem, you should once again adjust the position of the N95 respirator on your face. Also, you can ask a friend or family member for help but if the mask does not pass the user seal check even after their help, you can try a different size or model.
- When you want to remove the N95 mask, do not touch the front of the mask. It might be contaminated. Pull the bottom strap over your head and let it dangle over your chest. Then, you can pull the top strap which should have been over your ears, and dispose of it.
- After that, you have to wash your hands regardless of whether or not your hands touched the front of the N95 mask.
An important factor to note if you want to wear an N95 is that facial hair at the sealing areas of the N95 masks, i.e. the top of the nose and cheek, and the edges of the mask, will cause it to leak. So if you need to wear an N95 mask, shave off all your facial hair as facial hair will only prevent a snug and sealed fit of the mask – therefore compromising the effectiveness of the mask.
You should bear in mind that not all N95 respirators are put on in the same way but this step-by-step guide is general criteria for most N95 masks, and the ways to know if you wear your N95 mask correctly are the same for most N95 mask models. Regardless of this fact, it is important to consult the manufacturer’s user instruction, especially if you want to use an N95 mask model that you have never used before.