Surgical Mask Vs. N95 Respirator
The most common personal protective equipment that ordinary masses use is a surgical mask. Surgical masks are somehow what ordinary people prefer because it is way cheaper. But does it give the kind of protection an N95 respirator can?
To answer the question, one should be able to differentiate surgical masks from N95 respirators. At first glance, the difference in terms of the physical form of the two facepiece filters varies a lot. Surgical masks are loose-fitting masks, and it does not require fit testing with two ear loops that can be very uncomfortable at some point. This characteristic of a surgical mask contrasts the facial seal feature of the N95 respirator, which requires fit testing since it is designed as a tight-fitting mask for the wearer.
Surgical face masks only use one-way protection, this kind of mask captures the large particles, and it does not effectively filter out small particles from the air. N95 respirator, on the other hand, uses two-way protection that is perfect for filtering the air that is entering and exiting from the wearer.
Respirators are evaluated, tested, and certified by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) that reassures the quality of the respirator. In contrast, the FDA (Food and Drug Administrator) tests and approves every surgical mask released for the people to use.
Three Categories of Respirator
Respirators come in three categories that differ in terms of the level of protection it gives to the wearer. These are:
Disposable N95 Respirators all have a metal nosepiece, two straps, and a “NIOSH” approval on them. This respirator category is widely used by those who are susceptible to the exposure of airborne particles – particularly the healthcare workers, fire paramedic, police, emergency response, and the like. This respirator category is designed to give a high degree of efficiency if only appropriately worn.
2. Half Face
This category is non-disposable, but just like the disposable category, this respirator also has two sets of straps. The difference between them is that it has a mouthpiece and two cartridge or filter pieces in this category. This category is designed to cover the nose and mouth area of the wearer.
3. Full Face
Half face and Full face categories are similar since this category also has two sets of straps, a mouthpiece, and cartridge or filter pieces. This category is also non-disposable, and they only differ in terms of its coverage. Unlike the half face, this respirator covers the whole face, giving the wearer the highest degree of protection possible.
These three categories, the Disposable, Half face, and Full face category create a facial seal that prevents any form of leakage when properly fitted. If these categories are held and donned properly, minimal to no leakage occurs around the respirators when a user inhales or exhales.
The only difference between the disposable and non-disposable categories (Half face & Full face) is that the non-disposable face respirators would give the user a chance to change the cartridges and filter piece. Changing the cartridges and filter pieces of the respirator help ensure that various safety requirements are appropriately met. This feature prevents the user from changing the whole mask entirely since they will change the cartridges and filters instead.
Since an N95 respirator is designed for tight-fitting, appropriate measures should be prioritized by the user. To accurately measure the respirator, the user must be “Mask Fit tested” annually to ensure that the user has the appropriate respirator on his or her face.
Limitation of its Use
Like any other personal protective equipment, using these types of PPE is only limited to the number of hours or recycles. But now, the real deal is how long a person should wear these respirators and the indications that these must be discarded.
A person is allowed to wear a disposable N95 respirator up until 8 hours. But because of the respirator shortage the world is experiencing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed healthcare workers to reuse the N95 respirators such as L-188 N95 as long as the wearer has minimal to no direct contact with any airborne particles that make him or her more susceptible.
CDC recommended routinely using N95 respirators for several hours uninterrupted and stored in a clean closed plastic container if not in use. This technique will help preserve the functionality of the N95 respirator.
When Should it Be Discarded?
Ideally, an N95 respirators should be disposed of every after contact with a patient or after any aerosol-generating procedure. But because of the limited supply, experts came up with practical ways to preserve its functionality. However, there are instances and apparent indicators that suggest an N95 respirator should already be disposed of immediately.
The N95 respirator should be discarded immediately if:
- It becomes damaged or deformed.
- It no longer forms an effective seal around the face.
- It becomes wet and dirty.
- Breathing becomes very difficult.
- It becomes contaminated with blood, respiratory and nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids.