If you’re considering wearing a mask to protect yourself against infections, there are three types you should know about.
Surgical face masks
Surgical face masks are fairly loose-fitting, disposable masks approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as medical devices. Doctors, dentists, and nurses often wear them while treating patients.
These masks prevent large droplets of bodily fluids that may contain viruses or other germs from escaping via the nose and mouth. They also protect against splashes and sprays from other people, such as those from sneezes and coughs.
But the average masks you can buy from a local drugstore aren’t enough to filter out viruses.
For that purpose, experts recommend special masks with fine mesh that can capture very small organisms. These also have to be worn correctly for them to work.
Masks worn over the face are also unable to protect you from getting airborne virus particles, from a cough or sneeze, into your eyes.
Respirators, also called N95 respirator masks, are designed to protect the wearer from small particles in the air, like viruses. They’re certified by the CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The name comes from the fact that they can filter 95 percent Trusted Source of airborne particles, according to the CDC. N95 masks are also often used when painting or handling potentially toxic materials.
Respirators are selected to fit your face. They must form a perfect seal so no gaps allow airborne viruses in. Healthcare workers use them to protect against airborne infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and anthrax.
Unlike regular face masks, respirators protect against both large and small particles.
Overall, respirators are considered much more effective at preventing the flu virus than regular face masks.
Still, studies have found benefits to both types of masks.
Cloth face coverings or masks
Cloth face coverings or masks can be used in public settings, such as grocery stores, where you may be in close contact with others and it’s difficult to maintain your distance.
They don’t offer the same level of protection as surgical face masks or respirators. However, when worn by the public at large, they can still help reduce the community spread of viruses. This is because they help prevent people without symptoms from transmitting viruses via their respiratory droplets.
You can make your own at home using a few basic materials, such as cotton fabric, a T-shirt, or a bandana. The CDC includes instructions Trusted Source for sewing your own with a machine as well as two no-sew methods.
They should fit snugly against the face, covering both your nose and mouth. Also, use ties or ear loops to keep them secure.
When removing the cloth face mask, try to avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
Cloth face masks shouldn’t be used by children under 2 years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who are unable to remove their own masks.