Should you touch the inside of your N95 mask?

Covid-19 has affected more than 88 million people around the world. In the United States alone, more than 20 million are infected, hundreds of thousands died, and others recovered well. Now, the coronavirus continues to become a threat.

The virus is spread through respiratory droplets. Thus, for protection people need to wear face masks. For the healthcare and frontline workers, the best mask to wear is the N95 mask. The CDC also recommended this type of mask. This mask is regulated and approved by NIOSH.

N95 masks are disposable, but because of the limited supply, the CDC and FDA issued guidance on the reuse of the N95 mask. Also, to address the limited supply of N95 masks, the FDA approved several types of KN95 masks to be used for emergencies in the medical and healthcare facilities.

What is an N95 mask?

An N95 mask is a disposable face mask. It is a type of personal protective equipment that can filter at least 95% of the airborne particles and non-oil based aerosol elements. The N95 mask can filter out particles above 0.3 microns because of the pre-filtration and filtration layers that are made less than a micron wide. This air-filtering N95 mask is regulated and approved by both the United States FDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

How is it made?

The medical-grade N95 mask is made of different layers of nonwoven fabric usually made from polypropylene. The two outward layers of the N95 mask that cover the outside and inside of the are made using spun bonding. The formed outer layers of the N95 mask are between 20 and 50 g/m2 in density.

In the middle of the N95 mask spun bond layers is the pre-filtration layer. The pre-filtration layer is usually needled nonwoven material thermally bonded for a thicker and stiffer layer. 

Next is the filtration layer. This N95 mask layer is made from a high efficiency melt-blown electret nonwoven material. The fibers are much smaller and they are thermally bonded for strength and durability. 

The last phase of making the N95 mask is sterilization. It is done before the N95 masks are shipped out of the factory.

Other materials used are the following: 

  • Polyisoprene for the strap
  • Steel for the staples
  • Polyurethane for the nose foam
  • Aluminum for the nose clip

Different variations of N95 mask

The N95 masks are originally made for industrial use. The N95 mask comes in different styles and designs, depending on its intended application. There are N95 masks for manufacturing use, food processing, transportation, mining, and a lot more. 

There are also medical-grade N95 masks. These N95 masks are still applicable to be used in the industrial setting but they are approved by the FDA to be used in the medical setting. Usually, these N95 masks have the capacity to filter out blood spatter, splashes, and other bodily fluids. 

How to properly wear, reuse, and discard N95 mask

Here's the quick guide on how to wear and remove disposable N95 masks:

Putting on the N95 mask

  • Wash your hand thoroughly before putting on the mask.
  • Place the N95 mask in your hands and make sure that the nose piece is at your fingertips.
  • Allow the headbands of the N95 mask to hang below your hand by cupping the respirator in your hand. 
  • Hold the N95 mask under your chin with the nosepiece up.
  • Bring the top strap to the top back of your head and the bottom strap should be positioned around the neck below the ears.
  • Mold the metal strip in the nose area to shape your nose. Use the fingertips from both hands.

Checking the seal

  • Position your two hands over the N95 mask and breathe in to check if the mask seals tightly to the face.
  • Completely place both hands over the N95 mask and exhale. If you feel any leakage then there is not a proper seal.
  • If air leaks around the nose, readjust the mask and the nosepiece. If the leaks are in the edges of the mask, adjust the straps.
  • If the proper seal is difficult to achieve, ask for help or use a different N95 mask model or size.

Removing the N95 mask

  • Do not touch the inside and front of the N95 mask. It may be contaminated.
  • Remove the mask by pulling the bottom trap over followed by the top strap. Avoid touching the N95 mask.
  • Discard the N95 mask properly in a waste container.
  • Wash hands after removing the mask.

Is it okay to touch the inside of the N95 mask?

To avoid contamination, you should not touch the inside of the N95 mask. If you accidentally touch the mask while wearing it, take off the mask and replace it with a new one. If you touched the mask after using it, discard the mask immediately and wash your hands thoroughly. 

Face masks and COVID-19

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increasing demand for face masks. For the healthcare and frontline workers, they need the N95 masks and surgical masks, especially since they are caring for coronavirus patients.

For the public, disposable non-medical face masks and cloth masks are very useful. The protection level is not as high as the N95 masks but it can still filter out respiratory fluids and other large particles. 

Aside from wearing face masks, people should also practice social distancing and proper hygiene. Frequent hand washing is also a great help.

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