During 2020, you may have heard talk about the N95 mask. However, you may still be unfamiliar with what it is and whether or not it’s a good fit for you. This post hopes to clarify what the N95 mask is. We will look at what the N95 medical mask is, what types exist, and much more.
What is an N95 Mask?
The N95 mask is a type of respirator. For those who don’t know what a respirator is, it is a device one wears to prevent inhaling hazardous materials. From airborne pollutants to viruses, the N95 can protect the user against everything.
The name N95 sounds a little odd until you break it down a little bit. The N in the name comes from NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH helps to assign an efficiency rating that grades the respirator when it comes to how effective the mask is at filtration. The 95 is the rating, which means it filters at 95 percent.
There are other respirators that can have a different number. The N90 mask may filter fewer particles, while the N99 mask is designed to filter as many particles as possible. Always make sure you’re wearing the right mask for the job.
For those who are wondering if the N95 is in fact a medical mask, we need to look at who uses it mainly. An N95 mask is used in the industrial field quite a bit. Whether you work in a factory, in a mine, or have another career where you’re breathing in potentially toxic fumes, the N95 mask is designed for you to breathe much easier.
They are not foolproof for all occupations. If there are particles of oil in the air, the N95 mask may weaken. If you are a firefighter or in another place that has little oxygen, the N95 mask is also not that effective. Besides those caveats, the N95 mask works for those in the industry.
The second use is in healthcare. An N95 mask can be a surgical respirator, protecting its user from viruses. In this respect, the N95 mask is a medical mask.
How Does it Work?
If you want to know how the N95 medical mask or industrial mask works, let’s explain. There’s a filter that blocks particles, both big and small. It seals around the user’s mouth and nose, protecting them from all sides. Of course, the user does need to make sure it fits perfectly. An N95 isn’t too effective if it’s loose or tight.
When you put on the N95 mask, you may need to have a professional fitting in order to ensure the best fit. Everyone has a different face, and someone with a thinner or thicker face may need a certain type of N95 mask.
The N95 mask only applies to inhaling. When a user exhales, their particles still escape.
Types of N95 Mask
Not all N95 medical masks are created equal. Here are some different types.
The standard mask protects the wearer against all particles and is 95 percent effective. However, this mask is not FDA-approved as a surgical mask and is not resistant against fluids. Therefore, not all N95 masks are designed for medical use.
This is an N95 respirator that is FDA approved to be a medical mask. The differences between this and the standard is the mask is resistant to fluids and does not come from rubber latex.
The N95 surgical mask can protect its wearer better than a standard surgical mask due to the fact that it’s designed to filter most particles. For surgeons who have a long procedure, this mask does have a valve that makes breathing easier, though unfiltered air can come out of it. Because of this, some medical professionals can’t have those. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC advises not to wear a respirator with a valve.
Using an N95 mask as a healthcare worker does require some fitting. The user has to make sure it’s properly sealed around their face. Also, the N95 mask is designed to be one-time use only. You cannot, as of this posting, disinfect an N95.
Downsides to the N95 Medical Mask
The N95 medical mask has been valuable for many workers, especially during a pandemic. However, there are several issues that they have. Being mindful of those issues is important in order to get the most out of these medical masks.
Breathing issues with N95 medical masks can happen on several fronts. If you’re someone who has chronic respiratory or cardiac issues, the N95 mask can lead to medical troubles. A person who has to wear an N95 mask for too long also has to worry about the lack of oxygen from having it on for hours.
Heart Rate Increased
Wearing an N95 medical mask for too long can lead to an increase in heart rate. This may be due to the lack of oxygen from wearing it too long. An increased heart rate can lead to other problems, such as feeling tired or uncomfortable. Your heart rate may increase due to the fact that the N95 mask does cause some thermal stress too.
In order for the N95 mask to work, it needs to fit across your face tightly. This can lead to skin itchiness and irritation when worn too long. This can lead to other issues, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Obviously, everyone is different. Some people may have more or less troubles depending on their lifestyle and with how long they’re wearing the mask. Should your N95 mask be too unbearable to wear, we recommend you take it off properly in a safe location and take a breather.
Reusing and Cleaning the Masks
As we mentioned, you cannot decontaminate the N95 medical mask. However, there are some cases where you may be able to reuse it. This is only recommended in the case of a shortage. However, if there is a shortage, you may be able to reuse it up to five times.
As said, you should only do this during a shortage. There are also other rules in reusing it. For example, you do not want to reuse the mask if there’s any damage to it or signs of degradation. If the mask has been in contact with bodily fluids, you do not want to use it.
When you do use your N95 mask, you also want to make sure that it’s stored and not touched. Also, keep it out of reach from everyone else.
Should you have been exposed to anything, you do want to avoid using it again. Put it in a bag and throw it away.
As of right now, an N95 mask cannot be decontaminated properly. However, there are studies as to how decontamination can be possible. If an N95 mask could be decontaminated, it could be reused, meaning there will be less of a chance of storage. There are some promising methods, but as of right now, nothing is set in stone. The problem is that these masks can break down easily, so washing them with soap and water is out of the question.
Can I Purchase One?
It is possible to find websites and sellers that are selling the N95 face mask, but it’s not recommended. For one thing, if you are purchasing the N95 medical mask to prevent COVID-19, it won’t help if you’re the carrier.
Instead, it’s much easier for you to wear KN95 or face masks that are disposable or reusable. These are much cheaper methods that are much more affordable as well.
While you should leave N95 masks up to the professionals, finding one for sale at a store may be tempting. With that said, there are lots of fakes out there. While some sellers may have the real thing, there are many fakes. A fake N95 mask will have the following:
- Ear loops. An authentic N95 mask will use a headband, while a fake has ear loops. The headband allows for a better fit, which is vital.
- An NIOSH approval label. This is quite self-explanatory. There should be an approval label on the packaging or in the instructions. The mask itself should have the approval in a form of an abbreviation. Some counterfeits may seem to have a label, but it could have a misspelling, such as “NOISH” instead of “NIOSH”
- A fake mask may include decorations. We understand wanting to add some personality to your mask, but a real mask will not have any of that.
- Claiming children can wear it. Sadly, no respirator has approval by children. Therefore, if the mask you see claims it does, you should avoid it.
Finally, you can look to the FDA for help. They have a list of importers and makers or these N95 masks that are approved by the FDA. If you’re unsure if the mask you’re purchasing is approved, looking at that list can help you figure out whether or not the seller is approved.
Just type in the seller’s name and see if they are legitimate or not.
It’s important that if you do have to wear a mask to make sure that it’s approved by the FDA. There are many different sellers who are not authorized to sell medical masks, and should you purchase from them, you may end up with a mask that is less effective, or not effective at all.
What Can Affect the Filtration Rate?
The N95 mask is indeed effective, but not all of them are created equal. As we mentioned earlier, oil particles can damage the mask, rendering it useless. Examples of oil particles include lubricants, glycerine, cutting fluids, and something similar. Hazardous gases, fires, and other oxygen-deficient places can make wearing the mask useless, too. With that said, these masks are great in a healthcare setting or for certain viruses, even though the science on their effectiveness with COVID-19 is still out.
Not to mention, you need to wear it properly. If it’s too loose, it can let in particles. The same can apply if it’s too tight.
More About N95 Masks and COVID-19
While the science is still out, the WHO has declared that health workers have seen a reduction of infection when they have an N95 mask. This does make sense, seeing how COVID-19 is another virus at the end of the day.
With that said, the CDC and WHO have set some guidelines with who should and shouldn’t wear an N95 medical mask. The public should avoid wearing N95 masks due to the fact that they should be reserved for medical professionals, and because they do not prevent people with COVID-19 from spreading it.
Instead, the public needs to wear masks that have three layers to them and social distance. This can be a little frustrating, but the medical professionals need all the help they can get.
So, to answer the question of “Are N95 masks medical,” the answer is yes. Well, certain types, anyway. Some N95 masks are designed for surgical use and for use in the medical field, while others are designed for other uses.
When you’re in need of an N95 mask for medical use, you need to make sure it’s approved for medical use, and make sure you’re buying from an authorized seller. If you are not buying from an authorized seller, you may end up with a respirator that is useless. You do not want that, do you? Always buy from an authorized seller when choosing an N95 respirator.
If you just want a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the general public, looking for a normal face mask or a non-N95 respirator may help you there. With so many shortages, you may want to leave the N95 medical mask up to the professionals.
We hope this article was effective in teaching you more about the N95 medical mask.