Face Masks vs Respirators – Which Option is Better

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Due to the recent deadly strains of the pandemic that spread quickly across the globe, causing widespread panic, many people have started buying facemasks and respirators. However, do people really know if they are buying the right kind of protection? Here’s a short guide to facemasks and respirators. This blog presents how they are different, and how you should dispose of them after getting from the face mask manufacturer.

Facemasks

Facemasks are loose-fitting, disposable face pieces that protect the wearer’s mouth and nose from splashes and sprays. They are also designed by every face mask manufacturer to stop droplets – for example, when sneezing or coughing – from spreading from the said wearer. However, facemasks cannot keep out very small airborne particles that can contain viruses because of its very loose fit. They are also labeled as surgical, dental, isolation, laser, and medical procedure masks.

Respirators

Meanwhile, respirators are designed to protect the wearer from inhaling very small particles. Compared to a loose-fitting facemask, a respirator’s tighter fit only allows the wearer to inhale air primarily through its filter material, which traps the said particles. Because of its ability to filter out small particles, respirators are primarily used in construction and industries that involve dust hazards.

Respirators may also be used by medical personnel that has close contact with people who respiratory ailments that can be transmitted by airborne particles. These respirators should be approved by the respective National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). To check if a respirator is NIOSH-approved, it must have the following information printed on the mask:

  • Face mask manufacturer name or registered trademark
  • Part Number (P/N), model number, or compliant name
  • Kind of filter protection – filter series and efficiency level (ex. N95 or R95)
  • Testing and certification approval number
  • Logo, or the acronym NIOSH in block letters

When choosing a respirator, an important consideration is the kind of filter protection. The NIOSH filter series letter designates whether a filter is oil resistant – N for not-oil resistant, R for somewhat oil resistant, and P for strong oil resistance. Meanwhile, the number designates the percentage of particles that can be filtered – 95 for 95%, 99 for 99%, and 100 for 99.97%. Using this system, the NIOSH has nine categories for respirators – N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, and P100. However, there are still no approved respirators for the R99 and R100 categories.

Fitting of Respirators is Key

Apart from considering the type of filter, respirators must also fit tightly and securely on the wearer’s face to efficiently filter out the small particles. This is why many employers have their employees “fit-test” their respirators first, by checking the fit on the face and adjusting the straps.

They are also called particulate respirators or air-purifying respirators.

Last Word

Both facemasks and respirators are disposable and intended for one-time use only. Once used, soiled, or damaged, they must be placed and secured inside a plastic bag and thrown into the trash. They must not also be shared by several people, as doing so defeats the purpose of containing the droplets or particles that may carry a potential infection risk.

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