Below we look at some common face masks and offer some suggestions on the right masks you should get:
1.Can surgical mask protect me from the haze?
Common surgical masks are not designed to protect you from inhaling airborne bacteria,viruses and fine particles. Surgical masks cannot provide adequate protection against fine particles present in smoke and haze. Common surgical masks are meant to catch the wearer’s own bodily fluids, such as saliva and nasal discharge. For those who are healthy and would just like to use a surgical mask, they can do so, but if you are pregnant, a child, an elderly or have respiratory conditions, please use an N95 mask instead.
2. Who should use an N95 mask? When?
N95 masks are recommended for individuals who undertake prolonged and strenuous work outdoors when air quality is in the hazardous range ( PSI>300) N95 masks are also recommended for individuals who are outdoors when air quality is in the hazardous range
N95 masks are not needed for short exposure, like commuting from home to school or work, travel from bus-stop to shopping mall.
N95 masks are also not needed in an indoor environment.
Elderly people and people with lung or heart problems should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable. Those with severe lung or heart problems who have difficulty breathing at rest or on exertion should not wear N95 masks. They should consult their doctor as to whether they should use the N95 mask.
Women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy should not use the N95 mask for more than a short duration each time.
N95 masks are not certified for use in children, so children should try to stay indoors when air quality is in the hazardous range ( PSI >300)
3. Is the N95 mask an adequate protection against the haze? Does it protect against PM2.5?
N95 masks are designed to be sealed against the face of the wearer. This way, most of the air that the wearer breathes in has to go through the filter and not through the gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face. Haze particles are predominantly made up of fine particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5). Studies have shown that N95 masks do provide good protection against the haze as they are at least 95 per cent efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 – 0.3 microns. It is even more efficient (99.5 per cent efficient) against particles that are 0.75 microns and larger.
4. What about children? Children’s N95 masks are not available.
N95 masks are not designed for use on children or people with facial hair (e.g. beards), because it is difficult to achieve a proper fit, since these masks are designed to seal to the wearer’s face. Children should therefore minimize outdoor activity at PSI levels above 100, and avoid all outdoor activity if 24-hour PSI levels reach higher than 300.
5. Are there different types of N95 masks in the market?
6. How would members of public know if the N95 or other types of masks meet safety and quality standards?
A NIOSH-approved mask is certified by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to have 95% filter efficiency. A NIOSH-approved respirator has the following information printed on its packaging:
– the type of approval (e.g. N95)
– the manufacturer’s name
- A list of NIOSH certified N95 masks is available on NIOSH’s website:
- EN149 is the European Standard for respiratory mask designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours. Masks are classified in 3 classes depending on the ability to separate air-borne particles according to the FFP (Filtering Face Pieces). An European standard certified mask will have the following text printed on it:– the CE mark
– EN 149:2001; the classification of the mask (e.g. FFP2)
– the manufacturer’s name.
7. How does a consumer choose which mask to purchase?
Both the NIOSH-certified N95 masks or the EN-149 masks are designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours. Consumers should perform a fit check to ensure a good fit.