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What Are PPE Masks? Uses, Types And Features - A Detailed Guide
PPE masks or Personal Protection Equipment Masks are an important part of work attire for people in healthcare industry as well as those who have to work in close contact with patients infected with contagious or highly transmissible infections.
They are also very important for personnel working in airports, cleaning staff in hotels and hospitals, laborers in the construction industry, workers in chemical factories and in labs, and even in offices where one can be at a risk of air pollution, dust, viruses, bacteria, and/or droplet transmission from asymptomatic people.
In this guide, we will talk about PPE masks, their types, uses, and all other information you need to know about it.
What Is A PPE Mask?
As stated above, PPE or Personal Protection Equipment Masks is a multi-layer mask which can be worn over the nose, mouth, and chin with full coverage.
PPE masks can be disposable or reusable/washable.
High-quality PPE masks come with nanofiber, non-woven, or melt-blown fabrics that prevent tiny droplets from entering inside. Some masks also come with a metallic strip to create a firm seal around the bridge of the user’s nose.
It is mandatory for frontline workers to use N-95 or KN-95 or other FDA approved PPE masks that offer better filtration and protection than home-made masks.
Who Should Use PPE Masks?
These days, given the current pandemic situation, everyone must wear high-quality masks when stepping outside.
PPE masks are especially beneficial for people in the following areas:
- Healthcare and frontline workers
- Lab technicians who take samples and swabs of patients suspected of carrying transmissible viruses.
- Airport personnel that come in close contact with hundreds of thousands of passengers
- Cleaning staff at hotels, hospitals, airports, etc.
- Those who work directly or indirectly with people having infectious and contagious diseases
- Caregivers looking after patients with highly transmissible infections.
- Senior citizens and people in assisted living facilities
- Those in disability care
- When one is likely to be in contact with aerosols while performing procedures.
- People with allergies can also use PPE masks to protect themselves from dust, pollen, and environmental pollutants
People who have been asked to quarantine for being possible virus carriers should also use PPE masks. Even if one has no visible symptoms, one should use these masks for protection of others around them.
It is recommended to use PPE mask as part of PPE kit. This includes gowns or aprons, eye wear or goggles, surgical caps or hair covers, face shields, gloves, as well as covers for the shoes or feet.
- Before you wear the mask, wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water. If you do not have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer. You can also wear disposable or sterile gloves before donning the mask.
- Inspect the mask for tears, damage, or other signs of wear. Discard the mask and use another one if you notice these signs.
- Slip the mask on by touching only its ear-elastic bands. Place these bands behind the ears.
- Adjust the mask by pulling it firmly over the nose and mouth. If there is a nasal metal strip provided, adjust it at the bridge of the nose. This will create a seal around the nose and mouth. As far as possible avoid touching the mask.
- When removing the mask, wash your hands first and then remove it by using the mask’s ear-bands.
- Once you are done using the mask at the end of the day, wash it in hot water and soap. Once dry, store the mask in a clean plastic bag until you are ready to use it
- Alternatively, dispose of (disposable) PPE mask by discarding it in appropriate trash cans.
Types Of PPE Masks
PPE masks can be differentiated as follows:
Disposable PPE masks are lightweight and can be discarded safely without harming the environment. Disposing the masks requires following careful procedure to prevent spread of germs.
Re-usable masks are masks that can be washed and reused several times over and over. These can be layered masks or simple home-made cotton masks.
Both Surgical and cloth masks can be of the disposable or washable types. However, they do not create that tight a seal as N-95 masks (discussed below) and are only effective in preventing the wearer from transmitting the germs. Compared to N-95 masks, they are much simpler to remove and wear. Surgical masks can block particles up to 0.2 micron. (For reference, the COVID-19 virus particle size is between 0.07 and 0.09 micron).
PPE masks can also be categorized or differentiated on the basis of their particulate blocking ability as follows:
N-95 masks are called so because US-standards require them to filter out 95% of air particulates including droplets measuring up to 0.3 microns and that cause viral diseases in humans.
It is recommended that frontline and healthcare workers wear these to protect themselves. This is because they create a tight seal around the face of the user to prevent transmission of germs. Only masks that have a seal of ‘N-95’ embossed on their sides are genuine N-95 masks. These days, there are many fraudulent masks circulating under the N-95 tag and they may not be as effective as the real deal.
China has also made something called the KN-95 masks which follows the country’s special mask standard.
You can read about ASTM face mask testing standards here. There are other types of masks like the FFP2 masks which can block up to 95% of 0.3 micron size particles and FFP3 masks that can block particles measuring up to 0.023 microns.
Features To Look For In High-Quality PPE Masks
Number of layers
The higher the number of layers, the better the mask. These days, most PPE masks are triple layered while high-quality N95 masks can have five to 7 layers.
The layers could be made of melt-blown fabric sandwiched between two cotton layers and/or layers of non-woven cloth. In some masks, you can separate these layers clearly.
Approved by FDA
High-quality PPE masks are approved by the FDA. They also conform to the highest standards of testing. The NPPTL or the National Person Protective Technology Laboratory also tests and certifies PPE masks.
They should have a snug and comfortable fit
Ensure that the mask offers a snug fit and conforms to the human face shape. Ideally masks should be one-size-fits all (although you should never share masks). They should have elastic ear bands that can stretch as per the wearer’s face size.
Masks for adults come with a length of about 6-7 inches and width of 3-4 inches. You can opt for pleated masks that expand to offer a more comfortable fit.
3D shaped masks are better from the user’s point of view as it helps ensures a snug fit without causing breathing difficulty.
Look for masks with elastic ear bands that ensure maximum comfort without pressure on the ears.
Skin friendly materials
Since you need to wear the PPE masks for a long time, one must ensure that the materials used in it are skin friendly. High-quality PPE masks with N-95 seal technology tend to leave marks on user’s face when worn for prolonged periods of time.
Look for breathable masks made using woven fabric in between layers of cotton or melt-blown fabrics. This way, the users won’t experience any marks, pressure, or acne breakouts despite prolonged use.
Lightweight and foldable
Look for masks that can be folded and packed off easily. This way, they are easy to carry, save space, and you can place masks in multiple places like your purse, wallet, traveling bag, etc.
Lightweight masks prevent fatigue on the ears and make for a more comfortable wearing experience. These days, PPE masks in nanofiber technology weigh lighter than a human hair! They are non-bulky and very light but still extremely effective in blocking out pollutants, dust, saliva, pollen, etc.
How long can one use the PPE mask for?
There is no expiration date on PPE masks or N-95 masks. However, if the mask is damaged, you should discard it right away. Disposable masks are usually disposed of after every use. In case of reusable masks, always wash the mask at the end of the day.
Can I come close to people if I am wearing a mask while there is a pandemic?
Even if you are wearing a mask, maintain physical distance from others as much as possible. Just because you are wearing a mask does not mean that you are 100% protected or free to come close to people.
Can I sterilize a disposable mask and reuse it?
No disposable or surgical or procedural masks are meant for one-time use only. Discard them right away after use.
Should I wear a mask while working out?
PPE masks can cause difficulty in breathing. So avoid wearing them while working out. As far as possible, avoid working out in closed gyms where there is greater chance of coming in contact with sweat and body fluids that can transmit viruses. Sweat can also make the mask wet and reduces its ability to stop the spread of the virus.
PPE masks like N-95, surgical masks, respirators, etc. are a big part of the Personal Protection Equipment. These are a must-have for frontline workers and healthcare providers in the time of a pandemic.
Masks can slow down the spread of viruses and can stop the transmission of infectious diseases like COVID-19, SARS, H1N1, etc. We hope this brief guide helps you.
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