How to choose which surgical mask is best for you during the COVID-19 pandemic

Masks like the surgical mask are some of the most in-demand masks in the market. Along with the N95 mask, the surgical mask is also effective in filtering particles and bacteria. A surgical mask is widely used in the medical industry. Hospitals and small clinics that perform simple to complex surgeries use the surgical mask for protection.

How does a surgical mask work?

A surgical mask is usually blue on the outside and white on the inside. A surgical mask is a 3-ply mask. The blue part is responsible for blocking contaminants from the outside. The white part is responsible for blocking particles from the inside; which is usually carried by breath and saliva. The middle part of the mask is a non-woven fabric which makes the filtration magic possible. Like any other masks, the surgical mask is good for one-time use and must be thrown right after use. Reusing the used surgical mask can endanger the life of the wearer.

With the given general function, a surgical mask has three rating levels. These rating levels are in accordance with the standards set by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). These standards are followed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that ensures the quality and efficiency of a surgical mask. But the question does not lie on what the levels are. It focuses more on how to choose the best surgical mask.

There are aspects to consider on how to choose the best surgical mask. These aspects are different from one surgical mask to the other.

  • Filtration Ability

A surgical mask is known to provide protection by filtering particles through its non-woven fabric. However, not every surgical mask is created equal. ASTM designated levels of filtration in accordance with the level. Level 1 surgical mask is able to filter 95% of bacteria that are 3.0 microns in size and particles that are 0.1 microns in size. The surgical mask that is of either levels 2 or 3 can filter up to 98% of bacteria and particles of the same size.

  • Breathability

Breathability is an issue that concerns people, especially those who have breathing problems. This is the reason why most people resort to using a surgical mask rather than the N95 mask. However, not every surgical mask is breathable. This is determined through a surgical mask’s resistance to airflow. If the value of the airflow resistance is low, the mask is more breathable. The ASTM level 1 surgical mask is proven to be more breathable than the ASTM level 3. It is because the ASTM level 1surgical mask has a Delta P or Differential Pressure of <4.0 or less than 4.0 mm H2O/cm2. The ASTM level 3 surgical mask has a Delta P of <5.0 or less than 5.

  • Resistance to fluid

A surgical mask is known to be water-proof. However, people working in the medical profession do not work only with water. They also work with other fluids like blood; being the most common. A good surgical mask can resist the high pressure of the fluid. The ASTM level 3 surgical mask is the most fluid-resistant among the three levels. It has a fluid resistance of 160 mm Hg. For level 2, it is at 120 mm Hg. For level 1, it is 80 mm Hg.

  • Fit

All of the ASTM surgical masks are guaranteed to be a perfect fit. However, with the reported issues of counterfeiting, the quality of the fit for a surgical mask is compromised. A surgical mask is known to be loose-fitting. But if the fit is looser than the actual original surgical mask, that one is a counterfeit.

  • Durability

In connection with the issue of counterfeiting, the durability of a surgical mask is also put into question. A surgical mask is known to have straps that are wrapped around the area of both ears. These straps are fragile and can be torn from the surgical mask easily if intentionally torn apart. If the straps from the surgical mask can be easily torn apart from the mask itself without using much force, the surgical mask is a counterfeit.

  • Comfort

A surgical mask is known to be comfortable to be worn in a couple of hours. If the mask feels irritating and itchy, the surgical mask is a counterfeit and is made from materials that are not medically graded.

Which surgical mask to choose?

The level 3 surgical mask is proven to be the most efficient among the three levels of a surgical mask. However, if you are not working in the medical field, it is best to leave the level 3 surgical mask to the people working in the medical field. The level 2 surgical mask can also be an option for medical people. So the best option is a level 1 surgical mask.

A level 1 surgical mask can give you the filtration ability comparable to an N95 mask. It may not give you the fit like the N95 mask, but it has the comfort and the convenience that you are looking for in a protective face mask. Since going outdoors is allowed in some countries, using the level 1 mask is the best possible protection that you can carry with you. It is breathable and does not compromise your breathing cycle. The level 1 mask is the most promising mask for people who are running errands, visiting a friend, going to the supermarket, or any activity that requires you to go to a public place.

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