Can you trust n95 masks with valves?

Face masks have been popular this year around the world, including the United States. People have been asking which one is the best for preventing COVID-19 spread, and it’s a topic often talked about on the news and online. When the pandemic wasn’t official yet, people began to buy all kinds of face masks in bulk and wholesale, preparing for the worst. Now, the most protective ones like the N95 masks are hard to find for sale.

We’ve often seen people wearing masks with valves, and they’ve been very popular. But, it’s important to understand how they work, and why they’re not the best option when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19. This is why, in this article, we’ll discuss all of this.

COVID-19: the basics, and how it’s spread from person to person

By now, we all know that a new virus was discovered at the end of last year. This new coronavirus species was named the SARS-CoV-2, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome 2, as the SARS-CoV-1 already exists, a different species of coronavirus. The disease it causes has been called COVID-19, meaning coronavirus disease 2019.

This is a respiratory disease that can range in its severity, from asymptomatic cases to potentially lethal ones. The majority of the cases are very mild, with respiratory symptoms that resemble the flu, among which the most reported ones include fever, dry cough, sore throat, and sometimes can be accompanied by other symptoms like muscle fever and the loss of taste and smell. Many cases are also asymptomatic, and they can go unnoticed while still spreading the disease.

However, certain people can develop very severe cases of COVID-19. This severity has been associated with certain risk factors, for example, older age, while kids are the least affected people by this disease. Other risk factors include pre-existing conditions like immunosuppression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, any type of organ failure, or pre-existing lung conditions. In these people, complications from the disease are much more common, including the need for mechanical ventilation, thrombosis, multi-organ failure, which can all lead to death.

Although the size of the percentage of severe cases is relatively small, with most cases being either asymptomatic or mild, it becomes much more concerning when there are too many people infected at the same time. When this happens, there are a lot of people severely ill, and healthcare centers can become overwhelmed and collapse. This is something we’ve already seen happen across the world earlier in the year, which is why authorities are focusing on preventing the spread of the virus while a vaccine is in development.  

The virus is spread from one person to the other through viral particles that are released into the air inside fluid droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. When the particles reach the nose or mouth of an uninfected person, the virus begins colonizing and replicating in the airways, damaging the lungs and other organs as well. This can be prevented by wearing face-coverings, which protect the nose and mouth from the viral particles in the air. For this reason, whether it’s an N95 respirator, KN95 masks, surgical masks, or reusable cloth masks, everyone over the age of 2 years old needs to wear a face-covering, since asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease without knowing it. The use of face shields protects the eyes as well.

Explaining who exhalation valves work

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exhalation valves are added to face masks to make them more breathable by reducing breathing resistance. This is an accessory that helps with the comfort and breathability of the mask, with users claiming that they’re cooler and reduces moisture build-up, preventing the fogging of eyewear. However, despite all the beneficial properties of these masks, they’re not recommended in certain environments.

Regular N95 masks work filtrating the air in both directions: when the wearer inhales and when they exhale as well. This makes sure that they’re inhaling filtered air, but that they’re also exhaling filtered air into the environment, preventing them from spreading any pathogens.

With exhalation valves, the person inhales filtered air, but the air isn’t filtered when it’s exhaled, so they can release potentially harmful pathogens into the air. For this reason, the CDC doesn’t recommend these types of face masks for settings in which the maintenance of a sterile field is important. This is frequent in healthcare settings.

Can these masks be used for COVID-19?

Masks that contain exhalation valves don’t stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. These are also called one-way valves because they only filter the air in one direction, not when it’s being exhaled. This means that the air containing potentially harmful pathogens from the wearer’s body can reach the environment unfiltered. As we explained, COVID-19 could be spread easily in public places if people wear these masks, since asymptomatic people can still spread a disease without knowing they’re infected.

This is why the CDC doesn’t recommend these types of respirators for virus protection, since the antiviral properties are limited to only the air that is being inhaled. However, these masks can have other uses, since they protect against dust and smoke and other types of particles in which it’s not important to filter the air that is being exhaled and when keeping the field sterile isn’t a priority.

We all know the USA is going through a tough time, as well as the rest of the world. This is why we urge our readers to stay protected by wearing unvalved face masks in public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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