Why are N95 masks difficult to breathe in?

Healthcare staff, medical responders, and industrial workers know very well the importance of an N95 mask. In fact, they have been using N95 masks for years. An N95 mask allows them to perform their duties and not worry about the safety hazards that come with their jobs.

The popularity of the N95 mask has surged over the last several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone wants an N95 mask as it gives them adequate protection from the dreaded virus.

Healthcare workers were badly affected when manufacturers could not keep up with the demand for N95 masks. They had to reuse N95 masks until it was visibly soiled or damaged. This is not a safe practice, but they were left with no choice as they had to work in contaminated areas or look after COVID-19 patients.

Because of the shortage of N95 masks primarily during the first few months of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged members of the public to use cloth masks instead of N95 masks. By doing so, healthcare staff and first-line medical responders would have adequate supply during the pandemic.   

What is an N95 mask?

An N95 mask is personal protective equipment (PPE) worn over the user’s nose and mouth to protect from airborne particles. An N95 mask is capable of filtering at least 95% of airborne particles including aerosols.

N95 masks are disposable and should not be reused especially in the absence of special decontamination equipment.

CDC has released emergency guidance on reusing N95 masks, but this is only applicable to healthcare facilities that have proper decontamination equipment and trained staff to perform the decontamination process. As long as an N95 mask is not visibly soiled or damaged, healthcare staff may safely reuse it three times.

However, recent studies have shown that almost half of N95 masks start to fail on the third day of reusing them. Therefore, whenever possible and when there are no supply issues, it is still best to discard an N95 mask right after using it.

What you should know before using an N95 mask

An N95 mask may seem like the perfect face mask during a pandemic. Although it has a filtering efficiency of at least 95 percent, not everyone should use an N95 mask. People who have health conditions that cause breathing difficulties may find an N95 mask to be too restrictive and may worsen breathing problems. In this case, it is best to consult your healthcare provider to get advice on what face mask to wear.

Some N95 masks have exhalation valves that make breathing easier and help minimize the build-up of heat. However, CDC does not recommend the use of valved N95 masks for protection from SARS-CoV-2 as the virus may escape through the valve and infect others. 

Additionally, the N95 mask is not designed for use by children because it is difficult to achieve a facial fit among this population. Also, individuals with a lot of hair on their face may not fully benefit from an N95 mask because facial hair affects facial fit and could lead to air leaks.

Why are N95 masks difficult to breathe in?

An N95 mask is a tight-fitting device that provides a close facial fit. Its tight edges prevent air leaks but may also cause breathing issues for the wearer. It is through this close facial fit that the N95 mask effectively filters out airborne particles and ensures that tiny aerosols could not bypass the mask’s filter and enter the user’s mouth and nose through the sides.

If you experience any breathing difficulty while wearing an N95 mask, go to a safe place and remove the N95 mask. Replace your mask with a new one. If the problem persists, look for a different size or different model. 

Where to buy N95 masks

Workers are required to pass a fit test every year and perform a user seal check each time they use an N95 mask. If you have used an N95 mask before and passed a fit test, choose the same size and model. 

Go to your local pharmacy to check for available N95 masks. You may also see N95 masks in grocery stores. However, if you wish to see all your options, shopping online is your best bet. Visit different online shops and compare their selection of N95 masks as well as the cost of their products.

Choose an N95 mask that is cleared by the FDA or certified by NIOSH. Do not fall for counterfeit N95 masks that may look genuine. Always shop for your protective devices at leading stores that have been selling N95 masks and other PPEs for years.

Furthermore, look for good deals and discounts on your purchase. Try to ask for a lower price if you plan to buy in bulk. Similarly, check if they ship for free and how soon they can ship out your N95 mask.

An N95 mask is a great investment now that we are in a pandemic. It offers maximum protection against COVID-19 while preventing you from spreading the virus. 

Choose your N95 mask properly and make sure it creates a good seal on your face. Remember that every N95 mask is different and it is always important to wear the appropriate model and size for optimal protection. 

Finally, follow other safety measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing to further reduce your risks of getting the virus.

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