Apr 06, 2021

The covid-19 has disrupted every facet of life on the planet, from finance, to health and even our greeting and lifestyles. To combat the spread of Coronavirus, there has been a widespread campaign by governments and health organizations for the use of face masks alongside other preventive measures like social distancing and washing of hands.

These face masks come in different types – cloth masks, surgical masks, N95 masks – and this article will examine each type of face mask to help you decide on which is the best and most suitable to protect you during the pandemic.

N95 masks shall be reserved to the healthcare workers

N95 masks, also called N95 respirators, are NIOSH approved face masks that filter out 95% of all droplets and aerosols of size between 0.1 and 0.3 microns in width – including droplets that carry the novel coronavirus. They are tight fitting and provide more protection than other types of masks. Health professionals are usually fit tested in the production of these masks to ensure adequate sealing. Even though research is being carried out to make N95 masks reusable, they are still single-use face masks.

Due to the limited supply of N95 masks in some countries, the general public has been urged to reserve its usage for health workers and first line responders who are more at risk of coronavirus.

N95 masks generally increase the effort needed for breathing which might lead to suffocation in younger children (below 3 years) with smaller lung capacities. Also, N95 masks are generally designed to fit adults and might not fit children less than 12 years of age.

People with medical conditions such as chronic lung and heart diseases should consult a doctor before wearing N95 face masks. This is because they might already have features of a reduced lung volume and wearing the face masks can make breathing more difficult and uncomfortable.

Surgical masks are the best types of masks for the general public

Surgical masks or medical-grade face masks are disposable, light blue, loose fitting masks.

They usually have strings that are tied behind the head, or elastic bands that fit over both ears. Surgical masks usually consist of three layers and they protect the nose and mouth of the wearer from droplet transmission.

Unlike the N95, they cannot protect against aerosols, and since they are loose fitting, they do not provide complete protection from potential contaminants. But they still serve as a potent physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and sprays, droplets or splashes.

“When used correctly, surgical masks help in preventing the spread of covid-19. When worn, the blue part should face outside while the white part should face the mouth and nose. Combining them with filters or cloth masks can also increase their effectiveness”, reminds Michelle Chiu from The Kare Lab, a manufacturer in medical supplies.

Surgical masks are designated for single-use and should be properly and safely discarded after use.

Handmade and clothes masks

Handmade and cloth masks became a necessary invention during the pandemic as the world was facing a face mask shortage due to the high demand.

They come in different types, and sizes. An effective cloth mask should have at least three layers of fabric because higher protection is provided by more layers of fabric in the mask.

Against small particles, cloth masks are not as effective as respirators or surgical masks, but they are able to block slightly larger particles and also help in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

The most significant advantage of cloth masks is that they are reusable after washing. However, it is important that they are washed properly as some studies suggest that proper laundering helps them perform better against smaller particles.

They are also very easy to make or purchase and they can be combined with surgical masks for better protection. In using cloth masks, the nose, mouth and chin should be well covered and the wearer should avoid touching them.

Other masks

Apart from the masks mentioned above, there are several other types. Some include:

• KN95 masks are similar to the N95 but are made in China. They also filter 95% of all droplets and aerosols. Only KN95 masks that meet NIOSH requirements should be purchased.

• FFP2 masks are European products that provide at least 94% filtration. They are similar to the N95 masks.

• Masks with valves have valves that make breathing more comfortable but they are not as effective in limiting the spread of viruses since they allow expelled hair through the holes, which can transmit droplets to others.

• Plastic face shields and googles are effective only as additional protection to face masks. They do not offer enough protection against coronavirus because there is still a large space between the shield and the mouth and nose through which droplets can enter but they represent a perfect item in completion with the mask.