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Will face masks or respirators protect you?

Face masks and disposable respirators are in high demand with the rise of worldwide viruses, but many people are wondering if a mask can actually protect them. The experts say yes, but it depends on which mask you wear.

Not all face masks are created equally

Face masks and disposable respirators are all created for different purposes, so it’s handy to know exactly how your mask works.

If you’re looking for protection from mechanically-generated dust and mist down to the size of one micron, a basic face mask from a reputable brand should be enough. While one micron sounds pretty small, the size of toxic dust and smoke is much smaller.

If you’re looking for protection for mechanically and thermally-generated particles down to 0.3 micron, you need a more sophisticated mask. Smoke, toxic dust, asbestos, mist and welding fumes all yield microscopic-sized particles that can penetrate ordinary masks, leaving your lungs unprotected.

What to look for in a high-quality mask

  1. A valve

Wearing a mask is exceptionally hot and stuffy, so look for a valve that helps you breathe easier while expelling hot air. This is especially handy when wearing a face mask for long periods.

  1. A good carbon filter

Carbon filters help manage odour, by removing levels of ozone and organic vapours. If you’re working with paints, agricultural sprays or dealing with waste, you’ll want protection from nasty smells, so carbon filters are a must.

Can a face mask protect you against Coronavirus?

Experts say face masks can help prevent the spread of Corona Virus, but only when more sophisticated models are worn and fitted properly. Most of the public wearing face masks aren’t wearing the correct type that can actually help.

Dr. Raina MacIntyre, head of biosecurity research at the University of NSW in Sydney said: “Several studies, including research from my group, show that if worn properly, masks can protect people in the community from respiratory illness, especially [those] in close contact with sick people.”

In agreement with Dr. MacIntyre, several doctor’s and health clinics in Australia have been issued with N95 respirator type masks during the outbreak. This type of mask prevents 95% of small particles from entering the airways.

The president of the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP), Dr Harry Nespolon, said:

“I would recommend to all GPs and clinic staff that they make full use of their personal protective equipment, wash their hands as often as possible, and ask if patients showing symptoms of coronavirus have travelled recently, and if so, where. It's also worth asking if they have had contact with someone who has been in China.”

What is the best way to protect against the spread of germs?

While face masks have almost sold out around the world due to the outbreak of Corona Virus, it’s handy to note health professionals recommend additional precautions you can take to wearing a face mask:

  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Wash your hands with warm water, using soap, for at least 20 seconds and often
  • If there’s no soap available, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • Disinfect areas people can easily touch

Face masks aren’t all made the same, so ensure you know exactly why you need a face mask before buying one. Always look for high-quality models from reputable sources to ensure your airways are protected and look for the correct fit. Wearing a face mask can protect you, but only when it’s the right mask for your activity and your unique face shape.

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