Do surgical masks restrict your breathing?

Face masks have become very popular since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets thus, a mask is one major component to stay protected. 

For protection, people are starting to wear surgical masks and N95 masks. But, is it always necessary to wear these types of masks? Or does cloth mask or disposable non-medical face masks are enough? What other things people should pay attention to in order to avoid the coronavirus?

What is a surgical mask?

The surgical mask is meant to keep the operating room sterile while doing medical procedures. It prevents germs from the nose and the mouth of the wearer from contaminating the patient. 

The surgical masks become in demand following the coronavirus pandemic. Though surgical masks are not meant to filter small viruses, it is effective in filtering respiratory droplets. 

There are different variations of surgical masks and there are four levels of ASTM certification that surgical masks are classified in. The classification depends on the level of protection the surgical mask provides to the user.

  • Minimum protection -These surgical masks are suitable for short medical procedures that won't involve fluid, aerosol, and spray.
  • Level 1 ASTM surgical mask- These masks have a fluid resistance of 80 mmHg, and are meant for low-risk situations.
  • Level 2 ASTM surgical mask- These masks provide protection against light to moderate exposure. It has 120 mmHg fluid resistance.
  • Level 3 ASTM surgical mask - These masks are suitable to be worn in heavy aerosol exposure. It has 160mmHG fluid resistance.

Surgical mask vs N95 mask

N95 masks and surgical masks are very different from each other in so many ways. The surgical mask has a loose-fitting design and cannot filter tiny particles, unlike the N95 masks. Surgical masks are only meant for medical use. On the other hand, depending on the design and model, N95 masks can be used in medical and industrial settings. 

There are different types of N95 masks. Before the coronavirus, the N95 mask was widely used in the industrial field but because of the low supply and increasing demand for N95 masks, the FDA and CDC approved some N95 masks for surgical use. 

Do surgical masks affect breathing?

Surgical masks are suitable to be used while doing medical procedures. Prolonged use of the surgical mask may affect breathing. Thus, it is important to make sure that the mask is breathable and comfortable. 

Surgical masks are not intended for the elderly, non-medical workers, and people with breathing issues.

How about the N95 mask?

Yes, just like the surgical mask, the N95 mask can affect the breathing quality of the user. It can reduce the oxygen supply by about 20%. This is one of the reasons why the elderly are not allowed to wear N95 masks despite the fact that they are vulnerable to coronavirus. 

Instead, older people are required to wear cloth masks and other breathable masks for protection. Older people and those with increased risk are encouraged to stay at home and avoid the crowd.

How to properly wear a surgical mask

To achieve full protection from wearing a surgical mask, it is important to wear the surgical mask properly. Here's how:

  • Place the elastic ear bands around your ears. 
  • Make sure it covers the mouth, nose, and chin. Extend the mask up to the nose and down to the chin. 
  • At the top part of the mask is the metallic strap. Bend the metallic strip over the nose bridge. This should help achieve a snug fit.
  • When putting on, avoid touching the surgical mask.

Since a surgical mask is disposable, it should be discarded after each use but if the supplies are limited, reusing the surgical mask is acceptable as long as the mask is intact and not torn. Do not forget to wash your hands after removing and throwing away the surgical mask.

High-quality surgical masks: Test methods done

Surgical masks are very important in the medical field. Healthcare workers need surgical masks when doing medical procedures. Thus, it is important that the surgical masks are well-made and properly tested to ensure their effectiveness. 

So, how is a surgical mask tested?

  • Bacteria filtration efficiency in vitro (BFE) test - This surgical mask test is meant to determine if the surgical mask can catch the percentage of bacteria it’s supposed to catch. The test is done by shooting an aerosol with staphylococcus aureus bacteria at the mask at 28.3 liters per minute. 
  • Breathing resistance test - This method is designed to make sure that the surgical mask holds its shape. It is also to make sure that the surgical mask gives the wearer proper ventilation. The breathing resistance test method is done by shooting a flow of air at it, then the air pressure on both sides of the surgical mask is measured.
  • Particle Filtration Efficiency test - This test is to ensure that the surgical masks can filter the desired size of the particles it is supposed to filter. The Particle Filtration Efficiency test is done by spraying an aerosol of polystyrene microspheres.
  • Flammability test - The flammability test is done to determine how slowly the mask catches fire and how long the material takes to burn.
  • Splash resistance test- The splash resistance test is performed to ensure that liquid elements cannot penetrate and contaminate the wearer of the mask. This test is done by splashing blood to the mask using a force similar to human blood pressure.

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