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N95 Mask: Usage, Effectiveness, and Guidelines

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read
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Surgical/Medical face masks are a type of personal protection equipment (PPE) originally used by healthcare professionals whilst undertaking medical procedures. They prevent the transmission of airborne infections by creating an additional barrier between patients and the healthcare professional, blocking the movement of infected droplets and aerosols and reducing the possibility of inhalation and transmission by the mask wearer.

Medical masks do not prevent the complete inhalation of particles. However, there are several different ratings that determine how much they block particles. A mask rated as N95 means that it can filter at least 95% of airborne particles. It is important to remember that N95 masks are not recommended for public use and should be reserved for medical personnel.

COVID- 19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was necessary for all members of the public (unless explicitly exempt) to wear masks/face coverings to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This was to protect you and others from contracting COVID-19.

This list of rules is forever changing and therefore recommend you refer to your local government guidelines.

How does it work & Are They More Effective Than Unrated Masks?

Surgical/Medical masks work by creating an extra barrier in front of your airways that reduces the velocity (aka speed) at which aerosolised droplets produced by you can travel. These masks do not completely prevent the transmission of these particles but do reduce the distance at which they can travel.

N95-rated masks have the 95-rating due to their electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fibre material which can filter up to 95% of particles larger than 0.3 microns. The N rating stands for “non-oil” which means they can be used in non-oil environments. They also offer additional protection due to their tighter fit around the mouth and nose.

The effectiveness of N95 masks, when compared to unrated medical/surgical masks, has been studied, and the results show no significant difference in the transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, it is not recommended that the general public use N95-rated masks as unrated surgical masks have similar effectiveness.

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Should anybody not use N95 masks?

Masks rated N95 and above should only be used by medical personnel or by those who work in specific environments where rated masks are necessary. The general public doesn't have to use rated masks. However, they can be used if they are easier to obtain.

Does it affect my breathing?

There have been many recent studies published on the effects of masks on breathing, the conclusion is that, while you may feel like it is restricting your breathing, masks do not affect oxygen or carbon dioxide levels. Surgical masks have been in use for decades with medical professionals wearing them for complex and intensive surgeries for several hours at a time with no issues. There have also been studies conducted on how masks can affect individuals with severe lung impairments which have concluded that there is no meaningful change in the ability to breathe.

The discomfort many people feel while wearing a mask is linked to an increased awareness of your breathing, especially since you have a high concentration of temperature sensors around your mouth that detect your warm breath. This leads many to believe that they are having difficulty breathing when their breathing has in fact not changed.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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