A surgical mask is a face mask that was created to give protection to healthcare professionals during medical procedures—operations and surgery. The surgical mask acts as a filter and protects the user from splashes and other kinds of fluids and serves as a barrier by not letting this fluid enter into the user’s mouth or nose. However, the surgical mask’s level of protection has a limit as this disposable mask has a rather loose fit that allows the airborne germs and particulates to seep through it. A surgical mask’s prevention of fluids is also limited to large droplets as the mask is unable to filter out small fluids and droplets.

The protection provided by a surgical mask is quite restricted compared to that of a respirator. But inspiration for surgical masks are widely used by health professionals and the general public to seek protection from infectious diseases such as the flu. The surgical masks had also become extremely popular during the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus disease. Surgical masks were a good enough substitute for respirators such as the N95 and were inexpensive as well.

A surgical mask’s level of efficiency can vary and can range from a level of 10% protection to 90% protection depending on variable factors such as the manufacturer. However, even a surgical mask with 8o to 90% efficiency will still have a leakage rate of a minimum of 10%. As a result, it has been concluded that the surgical mask is a good enough mask to be used as a substitute for a respirator especially in a situation of international crisis—such as the COVID-19 outbreak.

How to know if it’s time to discard that surgical mask?

Surgical masks are disposable masks that need to be discarded after a limited amount of use. While many people at the present are reusing this disposable mask on more than one occasion it needs to be clearly understood that the extended use should only be done in-case of emergency and is not highly recommended. Moreover, one needs to be aware of when is the time a surgical mask should be discarded and should not be put to reuse. Many indicators show that a surgical mask is worn out and should be gotten rid of.

If a surgical mask starts appearing to be soggy, wet and soiled and one finding it hard to breathe through the mask that the mask should be discarded immediately as it will be of no use. According to WHO, the average life of a surgical mask is up-to 6 hours at most—depending on the settings and the extremity of usage. When wearing a surgical mask, touching it should be avoided at all costs to avoid getting germs on the mask. In addition to all this, if one is wearing the mask between intervals then the mask should not be put to use more than 5 times.

How to take care of your surgical mask?

Since a surgical mask is used to give protection against bacterial fluids and droplets, it should be kept in a sanitary place to avoid getting any bacteria or germs on it before the mask is put to use. If surgical masks are not kept properly and are not kept under sanitary conditions then the mask will not be suitable to use anymore. Now the question at hand is—where does one store their surgical mask? Before getting to what would be considered the most ideal place to store your surgical masks, let's first establish in which places you should not keep them.

The worst place to keep your surgical mask would be your drawer in which you keep all your clothes and you open it on more than one occasion each day. If you keep your surgical mask in such a place, your hand is bound to come in contact with the mask, which means that you will end up transferring a lot of germs on the mask before using it. Another place to not keep your surgical mask in would be where your mask could get exposed to germs or dust—in an open place like your balcony.

The most ideal place to store your surgical mask would be--a breathable container or a zip-lock bag or somewhere similar. Storing them in the aforementioned will keep the masks safe and will not expose them to any germs or bacteria either. Another point to keep in mind when storing your masks would be to store all your masks separately. If you store a mask that has been used for a few hours with an unused mask then the used surgical mask will end up contaminating the unused one.

Conclusion

While a surgical mask gives you protection against large fluids and droplets, it is a disposable that was created for medical professionals only. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the surgical mask has become a valuable commodity for not just the medical sector but the general public too. A surgical mask has a limited life and its maximum lie is up to 6 hours only. Surgical masks should not be used past this time but due to the scarcity of PPE people everywhere have resorted to reusing surgical masks.

If someone finds themselves in a situation where the reuse of a surgical mask is the only way to protect themselves then they may reuse the mask. However, if surgical masks become soiled and hard to breathe in then it should be discarded at all costs.

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