Breaking down what constitutes a “surgical mask”

By now, we all know that in December of last year the first case of the new coronavirus was reported. This new species, belonging to the coronavirus genus, stands out from the rest of the known coronaviruses, which have been known to infect human respiratory tracts. The SARS-CoV-2, as it’s been named, has the potential to cause some serious health problems, with countless deaths and physical issues reported as a result of it over the last nine months. Also, unemployment, mental health issues, and economic struggles have been an ongoing dilemma during this pandemic.

One of the primary topics of discussion during the year has been medical personal protective equipment (PPE), and it was a source of concern since before the pandemic was announced by the World Health Organization. It was predictable that PPE was going to be crucial to face this threat in the United States, and face masks have been, without a doubt, the main focus. A lot of questions have come from these items, and one of the most talked-about ones are surgical face masks. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about them.

Surgical masks are disposable face masks that act mainly as a physical barrier between the potentially harmful particles present in the environment and the wearer’s mouth and nose. They are labeled as dental, medical, or surgical, depending on the type of procedure they’re used for. They can be used with face shields, just like N95 masks.

A lot of people refer to them as ‘regular’ or ‘medical’ face masks as well. But, it’s very important to point out that any type of face mask can’t be considered a surgical mask. These are tightly-regulated face masks that are intended to be used in healthcare settings where a sterile field might be important, and that needs to meet certain qualifications. Not any type of face mask can substitute them. The level of thickness of the mask can vary, and it will determine the level of protection and breathability they offer.

Like N95 respirators, they’re disposable face masks, which means they’re designed to be used only once. They’re also not meant to be shared with other people. After it’s been used, or if it gets damaged or wet, it should be properly discarded. It can also be discarded if the person is experiencing difficulty breathing with them. Washing your hands before and after handling the mask is always recommended.

These masks mainly form a physical barrier to prevent fluids from being in contact with the mouth and nose of the wearer. These fluids can come in the form of splashes, splatter, droplets, or sprays, and can carry pathogens that cause illnesses like COVID-19. As a filter, they can only filter out large particles, unlike N95 masks which filter out airborne particles like smoke, dust, or viruses like the coronavirus or the flu. This means they’re not very effective for virus protection, and its antiviral properties are even lower because of its loose fit, unlike the N95 masks which offer a tight fit. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an institution in the USA, doesn’t recommend the use of surgical masks for protection against viruses, but they’re considered good substitutes for when N95 masks aren’t available.

These are face masks that we most commonly see being worn by nurses, doctors, and other healthcare providers. But, with the pandemic, we’re now seeing them being used by regular people on the street. However, it’s normal for the general public to be confused about these face masks, and misinformation can be spread about them. Here are three common misconceptions about surgical masks:

  • They’re the same as N95 masks and other face masks

N95 respirators are, according to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) a type of respirator effective to filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles in the air. They’re more efficient for antiviral purposes than surgical masks since they can filter out smaller particles and fit more tightly around the face, preventing any leakages from happening. Surgical masks mainly act as a barrier between large particles and fluids and the wearer’s face and vice-versa, and are more common in medical or surgical procedures where the professional needs to keep the field sterile.

  • They can filter out airborne microorganisms

Continuing on the previous misconception, we emphasize that surgical masks aren’t designed to filter out small particles like viruses, which are airborne particles. They can only trap larger particles, and they form a barrier against the fluids that could contain these pathogens and the face of the wearer, which can prevent them from reaching the airways.

  • You can touch the inside of the mask and nothing will happen

This is a big misconception that can be dangerous. For the mask to be kept sterile and uncontaminated, the wearer should always avoid touching both the inside and the outside of the face mask with unsanitized hands. To handle the face masks, you should always clean your hands first, and then handle it by the ear loops, headband, or straps.

We would like to remind our readers to always use a face-covering to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many options can be found for sale online available to buy in bulk or wholesale. These include 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210, KN95 masks, reusable cloth masks, and masks in a smaller size for kids. Remember that anyone who uses their face mask in public is doing their part in the fight against the coronavirus.

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