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Since the outbreak of coronavirus, face masks have gone from something you see on a dentist or an ENT physician to a sold-out commodity!

Now, it is advised that healthy individuals should also wear mouth and nose face coverings preferably having 2 ply layers when they go to a public area, such as the grocery store or a pharmacy. This has further pushed the demand for face masks across the world.

Though there are different types of masks available in the market, it is crucial to understand that certain masks are appropriate for certain people to wear.

Here’s the breakdown of types of face masks and the conditions each mask is designed for:

Cloth Face Mask

To prevent the spread of the virus including the asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, health experts have recommended that everyone should wear cloth face masks with preferably 2 ply masks, or homemade face coverings while out in public places.

It is also advised to not put the cloth face masks on children under the age of 2, and on people who have trouble breathing, or people who are unable to remove the mask on their own.

Cloth face masks are reusable and are available in the market as well as can be made at home from common materials, such as a t-shirt, scarf, bandana. Also, they are better than not using any mask and offer some protection particularly from people without symptoms, especially where social distancing is hard to maintain.

However, it is very important that cloth masks are washed properly after every use. Even while removing it, take all necessary precautions and be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Though not very effective, the general public is advised to use cloth face masks rather than surgical masks or N95 respirators, as these critical supplies must be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders working on the frontline.

Surgical Mask

This is a loose-fitting, disposable mask that’s rectangular in shape with pleats or folds. It has elastic bands or ties that can be looped behind the ears or tied behind the head to hold it in place. Sometimes, a metal strip may also be present at the top of this mask which can be pinched to fit it firmly around your nose.

If worn properly, this 3 ply mask may help block transmission of larger airborne particles or microorganisms from droplets, sprays, splatters, splashes, and other infectious respiratory secretions. However, the edges of surgical masks have loose-fitting and hence, they are unable to filter out small airborne particles such as those transmitted by coughing or sneezing.

This is how the 3 ply layers of surgical mask work:

  • The outer layer repels water, blood, or any other body fluids.
  • The middle layer filters certain types of pathogens.
  • The inner layer absorbs moisture and sweat from the air exhaled and also other respiratory emissions of the wearer.

At present, health experts do not recommend that the general public wear surgical masks to protect from COVID-19 owing to their shortage in the hospitals.

N95 respirators

An N95 respirator is a more tight-fitting face mask, which fits snugly to the size and shape of your face. Hence, there is less opportunity for airborne particles to leak in around the sides of the mask.

The respirator has a circular or oval shape and is designed to form a tight seal around the face covering the mouth and nose properly. The elastic bands provided help hold it firmly. Some types of respirators have an attachment called an exhalation valve, which helps in breathing and prevents the buildup of heat and humidity.

Owing to the perfect fitting, N95 respirators can filter 95 percent of airborne particles including large and small, in addition to splashes, sprays.

As these respirators are not one-size-fits-all, it is essential that are fit-tested before use to make sure that a proper seal is formed. If the mask does not seal effectively to the face, it won’t provide the appropriate protection and lower its effectiveness.

However, due to their tight fit, these respirators can become quite uncomfortable and stuffy making them difficult to wear for long.

Since the worldwide supply of N95 respirators is limited, it should not be bought by healthy individuals so that healthcare workers and first responders have ready access to them.

Final Words

Face masks are one way to protect yourself but they are only effective when worn correctly. So when you put one on, make sure it properly covers the most vulnerable spots on your face: the nose and mouth.

Besides using face masks, remember that there are other effective ways to prevent the spread and getting infected with COVID-19, it includes:

-Cleaning your hands frequently using soap and water thoroughly for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

-Always practicing social distancing in public settings. Make sure to avoid having contact with people who are sick, and try to stay at home.

-Being conscious of your face and touching it only with clean hands.

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