Wearing a face mask can give a feeling of protection or reassurance to people. But how effective a surgical face mask can be to keep you from getting exposed to or transmitting some infectious diseases? And if they do, then are these surgical masks have any usefulness against contagious diseases, such as COVID-19.
People have questions like how to put on a mask, how to take them off, and how to discard them? Here we are trying to answer these questions. Here we tell you how to use a face mask correctly.
What is a surgical face mask?
These are loose-fitting and disposable masks and come in a rectangular shape. It can have ties or elastic bands attached to it, which you can tie behind your ears, or in the case of elastic bands, loop them over your ears. Some masks also contain a metal strip in the top section. You can pinch this strip to hold it properly around your nose.
If you wear a surgical mask correctly, it can help block the transmission of microorganisms and large particles from droplets, splatters, sprays, and splashes. It also reduces hand-to-face contact.
The surgical mask contains three-ply layers and works each layer works as follows:
- Outer layer: it repels the blood, water, and other body fluids.
- Middle layer: it filters the pathogens.
- Inner layer: it absorbs sweat and moisture from the exhaled air.
A surgical mask can protect you to a certain extent, but because it does not fit your mouth and nose tightly, it can not filter out small particles such as those transmitted by sneezing and coughing.
When should you wear a face mask?
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends the use of surgical masks only if:
- You have a cough, fever, or any other respiratory symptoms.
- You are taking care of someone with a respiratory illness.
Though surgical masks help stop the transmission of larger respiratory droplets, they are not sufficient to prevent coronavirus spread. The SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus can slip through a surgical mask because:
- It didn’t filter out smaller airborne particles
- It didn’t fit tightly around the mouth and nose so that particles could get inside through the mask’s sides.
Studies are unable to show the effectiveness of surgical masks in preventing exposure to infectious diseases in public or community settings. (DC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not recommend wearing a surgical mask to protect against respiratory illnesses, but, in the case of COVID-19, it does advise the public to wear cloth face cover to stop the spread of the disease.
How to wear a surgical mask?
Follow these steps to put on a surgical mask correctly:
- Wash your hands for not less than 20 seconds with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub it on your hands before putting on the mask.
- Check if the mask has any defects.
- If a metallic strip is present, make sure it is at the top of the mask and resting against your nose.
- If the mask has:
- Ties: put the mask, against your nose, and tie the upper strings securely near the crown of your head. Take the bottom ones and link them near the nape of the neck to get a tight fit.
- Earloops: put the mask against your face and place the loop over each ear.
- Dual elastic bands: put the bottom band at the nape of your neck and the upper one against your head’s crown.
- Adjust the metallic strip according to the shape of your nose by pressing it with your fingers.
- Pull the bottom end of the mask over the mouth and chin.
- Make the mask fit tightly
- Once in position, do not touch it.
- If it gets damp or soiled, replace the mask with a new one.
What to avoid when wearing a surgical mask?
When you put on the mask securely, you should take some precautions to make sure you don’t get pathogens transferred to your hands or face:
- Avoid touching the maks after putting it firmly on the face.
- Don’t let the mask dangle from one ear.
- Don’t crisscross mask’s ties.
- Do not reuse a single-use mask.
If, for some reason, you need to touch the mask when you are wearing it, first wash the hands before touching it and rewash them afterward.
How to remove and dispose of a surgical mask?
Make sure to remove the mask correctly, so you don’t accidentally transfer any pathogens to your face or hands. It is also essential to discard the mask safely after using it to avoid contamination.
Follow these steps to remove and discard the mask safely:
- Clean your hands by either using alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
- Do not touch the mask to avoid getting contaminants on your hands.
- Carefully remove the mask away from your face
- First, remove the bottom band, then the top one.
- Untie the bottom string, then the top knot.
- Unhook both ear loops.
- Hold the mask with earloops or string and throw it in a covered trash bin.
- Clean your hands thoroughly with sanitizer or water and soap after throwing away the mask.
What is an N95 respirator?
The N95 respirator is a type of mask that is form-fitted to the shape and size of a person’s face. These fit more tightly than a regular surgical mask, therefore, provide better protection against airborne particles. It is also better at filtering tiny particles than other alternatives.
You can only benefit from using an N95 respirator over other solutions if it fits tightly and correctly against your mouth and nose. Healthcare professionals involved in direct patient care get test-fitted annually by experts to make sure their N95 respirators fit them properly.
N95 does a much better job of filtering small pathogens in the air than a surgical mask. Certified N95 respirators can block up to 95 percent of test particles about 0.3 microns in size.
Despite the apparent advantage that N95 has over other forms of masks, FDA (Food and drug administration) doesn’t recommend the general public to use N95 for protection against respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
A meta-analysis and systematic review in 2016 failed to find any significant difference between surgical masks and N95 respirators in the transmission rate of acute respiratory infections in the clinical setting. A randomized clinical trial published in 2019 in the Journal JAMA also supports the findings of previous studies.
What works best to limit infection?
The best way to limit the transmission of respiratory illness is to avoid contact with people. It can also help reduce the spread of viruses like coronavirus if you avoid physical contact with people and follow the guidelines issued by organizations like WHO, CDC, or your local health authorities.
According to WHO, the following activities can help reduce the risk of virus transmission:
- Practice good hygiene like frequent washing of hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, nose, and face.
- Do not go to a public place if you are feeling ill.
- Keep at least 6 feet distance with people to be safe.
- If you are feeling ill, then do not go outside until it’s necessary.
Surgical masks protect against airborne particles, while the N95 respirator can be more useful against smaller particles.
Though the type of mask you are wearing does make a difference, correctly wearing it is more important to protect yourself and others around you from getting infected.
The use of a face mask can help reduce the spread of diseases like COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, but it is not a foolproof solution. Wearing a mask is just one aspect of a proper protection strategy, for reducing your risk of catching the illness, you should follow all the guidelines issued by healthcare professionals.