The world of medical masks can be a little confusing to the average individual. There are so many types and there are different levels of protection. This post will help to clarify the world of masks by showing several types of masks that you may run into on your search for the best medical mask for your situation. Let’s get into it.
What is a Medical Mask?
The term “medical mask” generally refers to a mask that’s worn over the face. This usually entails a user’s nose and mouth. The medical mask is designed to prevent against several dangers, including:
The Spread of Disease
When you’re a medical professional, preventing yourself from spreading disease or contaminating surfaces is important. That’s why many people wear medical masks in order to prevent that from happening. A medical mask uses a filter or layers to catch the droplets that come out of one’s mouth when they speak or cough, preventing them from spreading disease.
When you wear a mask, especially if you work in the medical field, it’s important for you to wear a mask that prevents you from becoming effective yourself. The problem with many medical masks are that they are not designed for this in mind. You need special types of masks that are designed to filter the air you breathe. Also, this type of mask needs to be fit over your face snugly. If the mask is too loose, it may not serve its purpose.
In addition to disease, you may end up breathing harmful fumes and dust if you work in certain professions. Like catching diseases, you need a special type of medical mask in order to prevent yourself from breathing in fumes that are harmful.
They’re Not All Created Equal
There are many different types of medical mask, and they all have different purposes. For example, you may not know if a surgical mask or respirator is good for the job. In addition, there can be subsections of masks. For example, there are different levels of surgical mask, and you may not know what that entails. This post can help explain the ambiguity that comes with that.
Let’s Look at the Types of Medical Masks
The Surgical Mask
This is a popular medical mask that is worn both by the public and by health professionals. You can buy it in any pharmacy and it should work to protect against droplets. Droplets tend to consist of saliva or other bodily fluids that can carry viruses.
The surgical mask is designed to be single-use, meaning that you should not reuse it. Cleaning it off can lead to it breaking down. In addition, they have a lifespan of about 3-8 hours. The lifespan can depend on how much exposure you have.
The surgical mask consists of three different layers. This includes a layer of melt-brown materials. This is what helps catch microbes when they leave your mouth, preventing others from getting sick.
Surgical masks come in various shapes. The important part is that you need to find a face mask that fits over your mouth and nose properly. A mask that is too tight or too loose may have issues.
For the public, a surgical mask should be worn by someone who is contagious or thinks they may be. This type of mask can prevent you from potentially spreading your virus to other people.
We should probably mention that there are various standards for surgical medical masks, too. There are three main types, with level 1 being good if you have low levels of exposure and level 3 being good if there’s high amounts of fluids.
As for COVID-19, a surgical mask is not foolproof when it comes to protecting you from the virus, as it cannot stop airborne viruses. With that said, experts do believe that through mask wearing and social distancing, it can reduce the transmission of the virus.
When it comes to medical masks, you may have heard the concept of respirators being floated around, but you may not know what it is. In short, a respirator is a type of mask that stops the inhalation of droplets and vapors that are hazardous. In addition to being a medical mask, it’s used for many different jobs.
The respirator comes in several layers. One layer is designed to catch viruses and other harmful droplets. Another inner layer is designed to keep your face comfortable.
Not all respirators are created equally, which we will discuss further. Some are only designed to filter certain particles. Some may be equipped with a valve to make the user more comfortable. This helps to prevent condensation, but it may be ineffective towards catching exhaled particles. Some respirators may also come with filters that you can replace, though many are disposable.
The respirator goes through many safety standards and testing. An authentic respirator will have proof that it’s gone through rigorous testing in order to ensure it works.
Different regions of the world do test these differently. For Europe, there are three classes of respirators. These are FFP1-FFP3.
FFP1 respirators do not filter as much, going up to 80 percent with aerosol filtration. You are not going to use these masks for anything major. Many people will use these as dust masks for home renovation and the like.
FFP2 is 94 percent filtration. These are meant to be used by professionals. From construction to healthcare, this respirator can help stop the spread of disease and stop harmful vapors from entering the body.
Finally, we have FFP3. This is 99 percent filtration. It can filter particles that are fine. For example, if you are going to be entering a home with asbestos in it, you may want an FFP3 mask.
For the US, these masks must meet the standards by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH. You will tend to see various classes of masks that can determine whether or not a mask is resistant to oil.
Let’s break down the classes real fast.
This medical mask has no resistant to oil. If you are spraying lubricants in the air, the particles can wear it down. You may see masks such as N95, N99, or N100. The numbers indicate the percentage of particles that are filtered.
Let’s discuss the N95 respirator before we move on.This is a medical mask that has been sought after by the general public. The CDC and WHO advise against the public wearing them due to the fact that they’re in short supply for medical staff.
This respirator can filter 95 percent of particles in the air, meaning that it’s good for you if you’re afraid of catching COVID-19 or another virus. While it won’t help if you’re a carrier, it can prevent you from possibly getting sick.
Some respirators do have valves to make it easier to wear them and to stay cool when you’re wearing one. The N95 respirator does require you to get properly fitted, and it can be a challenge to find a respirator that fits you.
This medical mask is oil resistant, at least up to 8 hours. Like the N class, there are numbers that indicate how effective it is at filtration.
This is like class R, but the mask is entirely oil resistant.
Wearing a Respirator and COVID protection
Finally, we should discuss the people who should wear this respirator. In general, you should wear a respirator if you are in the medical field and you are caring for someone who is infected or may be infected. A respirator needs to be tested and fitted properly before you are exposed to that patient. As we mentioned, if the respirator is too loose or too tight, it may end up not being as effective.
What about COVID protection? These respirators do have promise with protecting against COVID-19 and other viruses. However, these respirators tend to be unavailable in stores and are highly sought after.
This type of medical mask is relatively new and has been created in response to the shortage of surgical and FFP2 masks in the market. While the barrier mask isn’t an official medical mask, it’s still notable.
This mask consists of fabrics and is washable. While a barrier mask should not be used more than 20 times, it is easily cleanable during those amounts of times. The barrier mask is a model that should only be worn if you are healthy.
A barrier mask doesn’t have as many requirements as professional medical masks. These masks should be used in addition to hygiene and social distancing in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
There are two categories of barrier masks. The first category is for public workers. This category can filter over 90 percent of particles bigger or equal to three microns. For category 2, this is meant for the general public and can filter 70 percent.
The barrier mask is popular because it’s easy to produce and has potential with stopping a pandemic. One still needs social distance, but the hope is that it’ll be much easier with the help of a barrier mask.
The Face Shield
You may have seen people wearing a face shield and wondered how this medical mask model prevents the spread of viruses. A face shield is like a protective helmet, being made from Plexiglass or plastic. Should someone have droplets fly on their face, a face shield can protect the wearer.
Because they are made from easily cleanable materials, you can reuse them again and again. With that said, the face shield is not totally effective with COVID-19 protection alone. You need to have a mask over your face in addition to the shield in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 fully.
Buying Medical Masks
No matter what you choose, it’s important to be smart when you are purchasing a medical mask. In this time of shortages, there are many counterfeit products, especially in regards to respirators.
A respirator, as well as other medical grade masks, need to be approved by the NIOSH, the FDA, or another governing body. If you don’t have that seal of approval, it may be fake.
In addition, you do need to look at some red flags. For example, if the respirator claims to be able to be used by children, it’s not a real respirator. Also, many respirators that are fake may be at a price that seems too good to be true.
Wearing Your Mask
Before we go, we should mention that with all these models, wearing a medical mask does have some rules you do need to follow. Let’s look at some of them.
- Avoid touching your mask when you are wearing it. This can spread contamination. Instead, keep your hands away at all times.
- Read the instructions on reusing or washing the mask. Some masks are reusable, but not always. Follow these instructions carefully and do not try to ignore the rules.
- If you are feeling lightheaded or fatigued from wearing your mask too long, take it off in a safe location.
- When disposing of your mask, put it in a safe container and throw it away.
- Finally, if you are wearing a medical mask in public to stop COVID-19, wash your hands and keep socially distancing. It’s not effective to its fullest unless you do that.
As you can see, there are various types of medical masks. The term “medical mask” can be referred to as something that health professionals wear as well as the general public. Before you purchase a mask, you do need to make sure that you’re wearing the right type, so be sure to look at all of the options above and see which medical mask is the best for your situation. We hope this article was helpful with helping you find the best medical mask for the job.