Coronavirus has taken the world by storm. As each day passes, the pandemic finds its way to more cities and countries. After China, Italy and Iran were once the two most affected countries. Unfortunately, the States is now one of the most hit countries.
The good news is the nation is reopening one step at a time. We will be stronger and life will be better soon. That said, wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing are necessary actions to protect ourselves and others.[toc]
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If You Have Got Some N95 Masks…
Because life must go on, many people are using masks to cover their noses and mouths as a way of preventing themselves from contracting the ever-mutating virus. So, are N95 masks effective at keeping away the virus? If yes, how long do the masks last? Are they reusable?
Yes, N95 masks or respirators as they are also known can protect against the virus. Unlike surgical masks, the N95 is thicker and handy in helping to prevent the spread of the disease. The CDC opines that this mask if worn correctly, can filter out 95% of airborne particles.
They boast the ability to keep at bay particles whose size is less than 0.3 micrometers. Isn’t that impressive? To ensure the mask works as it ought to, you need to ensure it maintains its function and fit.
The design of N95 masks is such that they offer protection against any particulate matter like smoke particulates, aerosols, mists, fumes, and dust. The respirators can also protect against biological particles like allergens, animal dander, and viruses. You can utilize them to shield yourself against bacteria, mold spores, and pollen.
Simply put, they are magical in offering protection against aerosolized droplets which can be unseen to the normal eye.
General Precautions for Using N95 Masks
Do you suffer from ailments that make it challenging to breathe such as cardiac issues or chronic respiratory? If yes, then you should be very careful when using these masks. Consult a doctor before putting the mask on. This is because you might experience more difficulty in breathing when you wear the N95 mask.
The good thing is that some models feature exhalation valves which ease breathing. They also alleviate the accrual of heat.
Another highly important thing that you need to know is that every FDA-cleared N95 mask is tagged ”single-use” throwaway gadget. For this reason, if yours happens to get soiled or damaged, you need to remove, confiscate and swap it for an unused one. The same is true if you have challenges breathing.
Safe confiscation entails putting it inside a plastic bag and throwing it in a trash bin. Once you have done that, you need to thoroughly wash your hands.
Talking of fitting, how do you ensure that your N95 mask is an exact fit? Well, you can initiate negative and positive pressure checks to ascertain that you have not only put on your mask correctly but adjust it appropriately if need be. Here is how to go about it:
- Put two hands on your mask, place around your nose and mouth, and inhale deeply. Ensure you do not disrupt the mask’s position. It needs to yank into your face. If you notice there is air leak around your eyes or face, correct the straps and nosepiece, then repeat the process of pressure checking.
- Put two hands on your mask, place around your nose and mouth, and deeply breathe out. Does your mask feature an exhalation valve? When exhaling, ensure the exhalation valve is covered completely. If yours fits properly, then there should be no air leak. If there is air leakage, you need to re-adjust the straps and nosepiece, then repeat the process of pressure checking.
Check out this video on how to properly wear an N95 mask.
How Long Do N95 Masks Last and Are They Reusable?
You can use the N95 mask for many hours uninterrupted. The respirators can perform optimally for eight hours of intermittent or nonstop use. Regular replacement is necessary.
When it comes to its shelf life, in most cases, you can use it for not more than 5 years from their date of production (check the date printed on the package of your mask).
In addition to that, you should ensure you store properly in their original packaging as storage conditions impact their durability.
OSHA directs that you can reuse the N95 mask provided it maintain its practical and operational integrity. On top of that, its filter material should not be soiled or physically damaged.
You need to discard your N95 mask in any of the following situations:
- Discard yours after close contact with an environment or area of a patient that is co-infected or infected with the disease.
- Dispose of your mask if it is contaminated with nasal secretions, respiratory secretions, blood or any other bodily fluid.
- Get rid of your mask after using it in an aerosol-generating procedure.
Updates in response to Comments
Thanks to Eva, Kim and John, we have some new information here and will keep updating it.
Limitations of N95 Masks
While we have established that N95 respirators are effective in many areas, they have limitations. Some of their limitations include:
- As aforementioned, they are not ideal for children. Their design is such that they cannot fit children.
- N95 is not effective if you have long mustaches, stubble or beards. All these can prevent the mask from fitting properly hence causing leaks.
- First-time users can have challenges putting the mask on.
- If the face of a wearer changes perhaps because of weight gain or loss, then he or she needs to conduct a test like directed above.
You should avoid wearing the masks in these situations:
- Industrial applications like painting, sandblasting and asbestos removal
- Atmosphere or environment containing poisonous levels of vapors or gases
- Confined spaces or rooms with low levels of oxygen
Is N95 Mask Effective Than Dust/Surgical Mask?
The NIOSH tests and certifies N95 masks. This ensures they filter up to 95% of particles. Surgical masks and dust masks, on the other hand, do not offer the necessary protection levels from particles. Their main work is to prevent you from expelling biological particles to the environment.
N95 Masks FAQs
Must I wear it in public?
According to the CDC, routine use of N95 masks is not advisable. The organization opines that the spread of viruses including the Coronavirus from one individual to another happens within 6 feet. Members of the community are advised to adhere to preventative actions that help halt or mitigate the spread of the virus.
Some of the steps you can take to reduce your chances of contracting the virus include:
- Using a tissue to cover your sneeze or cough
- Refraining from touching your nose or eyes before sanitizing your hands
- Avoiding sick people
- Canceling any unnecessary party
If you are sick, you need to remain at home. Avoid mingling with the public or visiting folks in the hospital.
My N95 mask features an exhalation valve. Should I be worried? Is it okay?
N95 masks featuring exhalation valves offer similar protection just like those without. The only difference is that those with the feature usually mitigate exhalation resistance thus making it effortless to exhale or breathe. An exhalation valve not only reduces the accumulation of moisture but also ensures your face remains cooler.
How do I distinguish NIOSH-Approved Masks from the Unapproved ones?
The NIOSH approval label and numbers are vital when it comes to distinguishing the approved masks from the unapproved ones. You can always find the approval labels within or on the mask’s packaging or even the mask itself. The needed labeling should include the model number, lot number, filter designation, approval number, and NIOSH name.
Check the NIOSH CEL to ascertain respirator approvals.
Is there a way to tell whether my mask is expired?
According to the NIOSH, N95 masks need not have expiration dates attached to them. If your mask lacks the date of expiry, refer the manual or consult the manufacturer on whether storage conditions and time have any effect on your mask’s performance and shelf life. Storage conditions such as humidity and temperature can affect the functionality of your mask.
A mask can outlive its intended days. When such a thing happens, using it is prohibited as it might perform accordingly. With time, its features such as nose bridge and strap might degrade thus affecting the performance and quality of its seal and fit. Before buying and using your mask, it is prudent to not only inspect but also perform a check that verifies the quality or otherwise of the seal.
Expired or overused N95 masks do not adhere to the NIOSH’s certification requirements.
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