What to do if you feel uncomfortable in your N95 mask

An N95 filtering face-piece or face masks in general, courtesy of the prevalent Coronavirus pandemic have managed to become a ubiquitous product. Due to their high filtration efficacy, these respirators are an essential PPE component. Approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) for healthcare workers in the US and around the globe, these respirators are the most reliable of all respirators.

Equipped with a seal-fit and a filtration efficacy of 95%, N95s offers its user utmost protection against all kinds of airborne particulates including fluids, vapors, and bacteria. However, these masks aren’t resistant to oil so one cannot use an N95 for protection in oil rigs and refineries. There are various N95 models available in the market, including a ‘P’ category which is oil-resistant as well. N95 masks, in the current situation still aren’t widely available in the market or on other platforms for commoners because of their diminished quantity.

Usage during Coronavirus and shortage

The onset of the virus elevated the stature of this respirator that is normally used by construction workers to a routine respirator for the frontline workers. 

But later on, as the virus rapidly began to take over all the US states, the respirators went into a shortage. The scarcity reached the extent where the government had to direct sellers to halt the sale of N95s to civilians. Despite this, the government still could not gather enough N95 masks to support all the frontline workers. This further resulted in an uproar by the healthcare workers who had to take to the streets and hold protests to get their due rights of safety.

Under what circumstances is an N95 not suitable for someone?

The World Health Organization does not recommend N95 respirators for the general public. But because this mask is regarded as a potential weapon against COVID-19, even the general public couldn’t keep their hands off of it. However, these masks aren’t the easiest to don properly. A user has to go along with a fit-test that is done before the mask is to be worn. OSHA has also recommended a yearly evaluation for all workers to ensure that the size, model, and style of the mask is best suited for them.

But apart from this, as per the guidelines prescribed by the CDC, there are certain individuals including children who are not recommended to use N95s. This includes people with cardiac or respiratory illnesses, people who are claustrophobic or have asthmatic issues. Other than these, individuals with facial hair and children, especially toddlers and infants shouldn’t be wearing an N95 at all. An N95 will further deteriorate their illnesses and will serve them with more harm than any good. As for children and people with facial hair, if they wear an N95 mask, they will not be able to achieve a sealed fit.

A seal fit is what distinguishes the N95 from other face masks and without it, the mask is vain. People with beards will find it difficult in adjusting their N95 and the hair will serve as a barrier and prevent a sealed fit. Where-as children might feel suffocated in these respirators and will also not be able to achieve a seal-fit since these masks are mostly available in a standard size which is made for an adult.

Should one get rid of their N95 if they feel uncomfortable?

Wearing face masks and specifically, the N95 respirator is not as easy as one may think of it to be. Respirators like N95 make it hard to breathe and a user may also feel suffocated at times. Of course, there is the option of N95 masks with valves but they are not highly recommended due to some reasons. Apart from this, the fact that people are obligated to wear masks for prolonged hours can also trigger anxiety and even panic attacks. People who have fragile health or are asthmatic and have breathing problems will also feel extremely uncomfortable while wearing a mask.

For these very reasons, one should go through a proper evaluation before deciding to purchase an N95. And for people who are suffering from illnesses and may be suspicious that an N95 is not appropriate for them and could be detrimental to their health, consult your physician or psychologist (depending upon the nature of your illness) before purchasing an N95. And if someone has already purchased an N95 and has started wearing it and is now experiencing certain issues like difficulty in breathing or feel like their health is deteriorating then they should immediately stop wearing the mask.

They should discuss their problem with a relevant medical expert and should opt for another mask that is more suitable for them and their health.


N95s are the most efficient and reliable respirators and due to this specific reason, they are recommended for medical workers. However, this does not mean that everyone should opt for this mask without evaluating it and reading the CDC guidelines. In line with this, if an individual is finding it extremely hard to don this mask then it must be not well suited for them. In such situations, the mask should be gotten rid of and should not be used again except if approved by their concerned physician.

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