March 13, 2020
With the onset of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), contagions are on everyone’s mind. People across the globe are seeking out and reinforcing the best ways to prevent the spread of disease. Wearing medical face masks can be highly effective, but only if it is the proper mask used correctly. Here is what you need to know about medical masks and how to use them.
Disposable Face Masks
Disposable medical face masks, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are commonly used by doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical practitioners while treating patients. The disposable masks have three layers. The outer layer, often blue or green, is a fluid-repelling layer. The central layer is the filtering barrier for germs. And the inside layer is meant to absorb exhaled fluids, otherwise they would collect in the mask and decrease effectiveness. These masks are designed to prevent droplets of bodily fluid from escaping via the nose and mouth of the wearer. When paired with eyewear, they also help protect the wearer against sprays of blood or bodily fluids from others, such as when a patient talks, coughs, or sneezes. Unfortunately, these types of masks do not protect against the inhalation of airborne particles.
Steps for Using a Disposable Face Mask Correctly
1. Choose appropriate mask size. Most disposable masks come in child and adult sizes.
2. Before touching the mask make sure your hands are not contaminated. Use hand sanitizer or thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds and dry them.
3. Remove a mask from a box and examine it for obvious holes or tears on both sides of the mask.
4. Determine which side of the mask is the top. Most masks have a stiffer edge or metallic strip. This is the top of the mask, meant to mold to the shape of the nose.
5. Determine which side of the mask is the front. Usually the colored side of the mask is the front and the white side is one that touches the face. Be sure to follow the manufactures instructions on the packaging. Do not use a medical facemask inside out.
6. Do not touch the mask again until you are ready to remove it. When removing do not touch the front of the mask, as it may have collected germs. Only touch the ties or the ear loops while removing. Immediately throw the mask away and thoroughly wash your hands. Do not wear the mask beyond the manufacturer’s instructions on the box. Do not reuse a disposable face mask.
N95 Respirator Masks
A respirator works best to protect against airborne pathogens. The N95 respirator masks are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These respirators are called N95 masks because they filter 95 percent of airborne particles likes dust, minerals, or biological particles. They are often used by those who handle toxic materials, but healthcare providers also use them to protect against airborne pathogens such as tuberculosis and anthrax. They are a good way to protect lungs and overall health, but because they make it more difficult to breathe you should speak with a physician before adopting this precaution.
Steps for Using a N95 Respirator Mask Correctly
1. Choose the correct size for the respirator. It should fit the face and form a complete seal around the nose and mouth with no gaps. Sizes generally go from extra small up to large.
2. Thoroughly wash and dry, or sanitize hands before putting the mask on so you do not contaminate it before you use it.
3. Cup the mask in one hand, trying to only touch the outside edge. Cover the mouth and nose. Pull the bottom strap over your head and secure down by the neck. Then pull the top strap over the head and secure above the ears. Adjust the straps so the mask sits nice and snug against the face.
4. Mold the nose piece around the bridge of the nose so there are no gaps. Set both hands around the edge of the mask and take in a breath to test the seal. If you feel air leaking, reposition the straps or re-mold the nose piece.
5. Do not touch the front of the mask to remove. Simply pull the bottom strop over your head and allow it to hang down in front. Then pull the top strap over your head.
6. If not used in a medical setting, store mask in a clean bag or container that can seal for re-use. If mask was used in a medical setting, immediately dispose of it.
Properly wearing medical face masks can help protect you against some diseases. And if you are sick and need to be around others, properly wearing a mask can help protect those around you as well. But during a pandemic, just wearing a mask only goes so far. Preventative measures should also include proper hand hygiene, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth, respiratory etiquette or “coughing manners,” avoiding crowds and possible sources of infection, and staying home if sick to minimize contact with others.