How do I choose the best face mask for me? September 27 2021, 5 Comments

How do I choose the best face mask for me?

To keep your lungs safe from wildfire smoke or other extreme air event, here is what you can consider when choosing a face mask:

First, here is what you should avoid: Surgical face masks, bandanas, or the top half of your sweater are insufficient to protect against airborne toxins. Particles of smoke, dirt, and other unhealthy substances easily get around these poor seals.

N-95 Respirator masks

Particulate respirators are usually the best call for most people who are concerned with keeping their lungs healthy during an extreme air event. It is particularly important to get one with the proper rating, however.

N95 are the most common respirator masks available and are usually sufficient. The “95” means the mask is capable of filtering out 95% of particles sized 0.3 microns. Some masks may be rated N99 or even N100, which means they will filter 99% and 99.97% respectively. The letter part of the rating is less important as it refers to the mask’s ability to resist oil-based liquids that may splash on the mask such as blood or automotive fluids that may splash on the mask in occupational settings. “N” means that mask is Not oil resistant.

Some masks may be rated R, which means they are oil-Resistant, or even P, which means they are oil Proof. The P100 mask is one kind of oil proof mask that can filter 99.97% of particles (rounded up to be rated 100). The N95 is the best option for most since higher numbers or more oil-resistant ratings also make it more difficult to breathe.

Avoid respirators that do not have a rating or do not have “NIOSH” stamped next to the rating. NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a part of the Center for Disease Control. NIOSH recommends a full seal between the mask and your face, so trim your beard if you have one, and get a specially fitted mask for any children you are responsible for. Along the same lines, the standard masks do not provide a seal around a dog’s muzzle, so if you need to keep your dog’s lungs safe, invest in a mask specifically for your dog.

Some respirators have a little box with a valve in the center. This is to allow exhaust breath to escape. While this reduces the efficacy of the respirator, it also allows carbon dioxide, heat, and moisture to vent.

Gas masks

Gas masks are much more expensive and require separate filtration cartridges. People with severe asthma or chemical sensitivities should consider using a gas mask to be sure they are breathing the clean air their lungs need.

If you have heart or lung issues that cause shortness-of-breath

If you  have a special health condition,  it may be necessary to get a PAPR or just not use a mask at all, though you should follow instructions from a medical professional. This will ensure that even if you are breathing heavily, there will not be any extra strain. In fact, the California Department of Public Health states that “wearing a mask may actually be harmful to some people with heart or lung disease because it can make the lungs work harder to breathe.” And even if you do not have any cardiopulmonary issues, you will be breathing in less oxygen when using a mask, so be sure to take it off whenever you get a chance or if you find breathing through it difficult.