N95 masks: everything you need to know, including whether or not they protect the eyes
NIOSH is the acronym used to talk about the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This institution has the responsibility to create recommendations and guidelines, which are based on scientific research, to work settings to prevent any injury or illness that can be the direct cause of the work environment.
Part of their job is to regulate respirators, and for this, they have a classification for them, considered to be the standard for filtration inside the United States. NIOSH tests respirators when they’re manufactured before their distribution and later certifies whether or not they meet the criteria they set for each respirator type in their classification.
The two characteristics NIOSH takes into consideration for this classification are:
- Resistance to oil: this part of the classification is indicated in the name with a letter, refers to how much the respirator can withstand contact with oil, and whether or not they can filter particles that contain it. Respirators that start with an N means that they’re not resistant, R means they’re resistant, and P means oil-proof. Based on this, N95 respirators don’t have oil resistance.
- Percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy: also known as the filtration rate, is the second part of the name, indicated with a number. This percentage represents the amount of airborne particles in the air the respirator can effectively filter out, and the three options are 95, 99, or 100%. N95 masks can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles in the air.
The total number of possible respirator types inside the classification is nine, the result of the combination of the three alternatives of each characteristic we explained. For example, N100, P95, and R99 masks exist too. N95 masks are effective for filtering out at least 95% of the non-oil based particles in the air, as they don’t have oil resistance and have a filtration rate of 95%.
For this reason, they’re currently considered the best disposable face mask for virus protection, with higher antiviral properties than those found in surgical, medical, or reusable face masks. This face mask can protect against viruses like the flu or the coronavirus, as well as other non-oil based airborne particles like dust and smoke. Some of the most purchased N95 masks around the world are the 3M N95 masks, with popular models like the 3M 8511 and the 3M 8210.
A face mask model that is often confused with N95 masks are KN95 masks, a respirator manufactured under the Chinese standard for filtration. Even though they’re technically the same because they follow different criteria, they’re very similar and are generally considered to be equivalent, and can be used interchangeably when the other isn’t available in emergencies. For example, with the pandemic and the shortages of N95 masks, KN95 masks can substitute them. Under European standards, the equivalent to N95 masks would be the FFP2 respirator.
NIOSH must approve N95 masks, signaling this with an approval stamp. This proves that the respirator has been tested by them, and they certify that it does meet the criteria established to be considered an N95 mask. Otherwise, anyone who uses the respirator can’t be sure that the mask is protecting them the way an N95 mask is supposed to. For masks that are intended to be used in medical settings, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must also test and approve the respirator, although, with the COVID-19 emergency, they’ve granted Emergency Use Authorizations to mask models previously not regulated by them, including several KN95 masks.
N95 masks are disposable face masks, and they’re half-piece respirators, which means they only cover up the mouth and the nose of the wearer. This means they don’t protect the eyes, and they can’t prevent, on their own, the spread of COVID-19 to the eyes. However, N95 masks can be paired with eye protection devices, like goggles or face shields, adding protection to the eyes as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new type of virus, known as the SARS-CoV-2, that was recently discovered in December of last year. This new virus is part of the coronavirus genus, viruses known to infect the respiratory tract of humans, causing flu-like infections. But, this new virus seems to be more serious than other coronaviruses.
As with many respiratory diseases, COVID-19 spreads when an infected person releases viral particles into the air through their respiratory viruses when they talk, coughs, or sneezes. The viral particles enter the uninfected person’s body through their mucous membranes, which can be either the mouth, the eyes, or the nose. Through them, the virus can start replicating and finally reach the respiratory airways, where they settle and create several degrees of damage.
Protecting the eyes is just as important as protecting the nose and mouth, which is why items like face shields and goggles have also been widely used during the pandemic, particularly among healthcare workers who are at higher risk of exposure and infection.
Face-coverings of any type, as well as goggles and face shields, can be bought easily. You can find them for sale online, available in a smaller size for kids, and to buy in bulk and/or wholesale as well. If you’re a vulnerable person to developing a more severe form of COVID-19, these protective items can be of great use for your safety.