In the United States, there are many medical and surgical face mask types that you can find for sale online. You can buy many antiviral products for your own protection. N95 masks and N95 respirators are popular in the USA. These can be reusable or disposable face mask models.

The best face mask will be in the right size to give you virus protection. The protection of the N95 mask comes with a filter that is the best to prevent flu from exposure to harmful non-oil particulates in the air, dust, and smoke.

Healthcare professionals may purchase wholesale or bulk the N95 mask online. Popular N95 mask models include a 3M N95 mask such as the 1860 N95 mask, 3M 8511, and 3M 8210 N95 mask as well as face shields. An alternative will be kn95 masks which also offer at least 95 percent filtration efficiency.

What happens when you wear a surgical mask over an N95 mask facepiece with a filter

The reason why there are N95 mask consumers that place a surgical mask over their N95 mask is to extend the life of the N95 mask filter. The surgical mask acts as an outer protective barrier over the N95 mask.

First off, the problem is that the N95 mask filter has been in short supply due to the large-scale major outbreak that became the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, to extend the N95 mask supply available for healthcare use, some frontline workers wear a surgical mask to act as an outer barrier for protection.

Now, there has been a test that was done with 10 healthcare workers. They wore a surgical mask over a face mask for 1 hour at differing work rates. Now, the physiological effects have been studied including the respiratory rate, transcutaneous carbon dioxide levels, heart rate, minute volume, tidal volume, respiratory dead space gases, and oxygen saturation. Exertion versus comfort was also experimented on.

The result of the N95 mask with a surgical mask test on the healthcare frontline workers showed no significant physiological effects. While surgical masks worn over an N95 mask may decrease dead space oxygen concentrations of the N95 mask filter, there was not found any significant impact.

In conclusion, the use of a surgical mask over an N95 mask as an outer barrier does not significantly impact comfort, exertion, and physiological burden.

Extending the life of an N95 mask using a surgical mask

The high N95 mask demand is due to the N95 mask shortage. Healthcare frontline workers need PPE against surface contamination. To prevent surface contamination, a clean face shield may be worn over an N95 mask.

If you want to wear a surgical mask or even a cloth face mask over an N95 mask, keep in mind that this practice is not recommended, neither is it approved by NIOSH. The reason is that it is not consistent with the conditions of NIOSH approval.

NIOSH studies on N95 mask with a surgical mask

NIOSH conducted studies when it comes to the impact of using a surgical mask as a covering over the N95 mask. Back in 2010, the first study showed no significant physiological burden on the wearer. Even when more strenuous work is done by the healthcare worker, there is no significant added stress that makes it harder to breathe. However, extended use over an hour has not been examined by NIOSH.

Furthermore, NIOSH does not advocate that the use of a secondary barrier such as a surgical mask or cloth covering affects the aerosol filter efficiency of an N95 mask. The right fit of the N95 mask must be put into a test.

To prevent surface contamination of an N95 mask, you may want to wear a face shield instead of an additional mask. But, during a crisis such as an N95 mask shortage, such a strategy as wearing a surgical or cloth face mask covering may be taken into consideration without any negative impacts.

Should I use an N95 mask or surgical mask?

The determining factors on which face mask type to use depends on the hazard analysis of the work environment and any risk factors. The N95 mask is designed to help reduce respiratory exposure to harmful contaminants like vapors, gases, and air particulates. The N95 mask has various models that offer different sizing and design options based on one’s preference.

The right N95 mask should have a tight seal and have a filter material to provide virus protection.  On the other hand, surgical masks are designed to help prevent contamination and offer a sterile field from larger particulates. This helps prevent spit and mucus as well as blood and other secretions to reach the mouth or nose of the wearer. This may also limit the spread of infections.

But, the main difference is the size of the particulates that each type of face mask can effectively become a barrier. The N95 mask is designed to act as a barrier between the wearer and an asymptomatic or symptomatic patient with COVID-19. Only the N95 mask is NIOSH-approved for such purpose. Otherwise, a surgical mask would be fit for less risk exposure to the novel coronavirus.

For the general public, at this point wearing an N95 mask is not mandated by the government. Especially in the case of kids, a cloth covering or a surgical mask may be used.

Only in crisis cases is wearing a surgical mask over an N95 mask deemed safe. A better option would be to use a face shield that is hygienic and wear it over an N95 mask for added virus protection.

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