Air pollution is a serious health threat, especially in the Delhi-NCR region, where the air quality is declared as poor and at times, very poor. With the pollution levels rising at a drastic rate and the air quality hitting an all-time low, it’s up to every individual to opt for anti-pollution measures to breathe cleaner air. And one such simple, easily available and effective option to fight pollution is the use of anti-pollution masks.
But there are numerous questions such as what are respirators, which is the best mask for pollution, what does N95 mask mean, and so on. So to help you give a clear idea before investing in an anti-pollution mask, we have answered some of the common frequently asked questions about masks.
1. What are respirators for?
Anti-pollution masks are known as respirators. It is a device which helps you to breathe cleaner air by preventing you from inhaling chemicals, particulate matter, and infectious particles such as bacteria and viruses.
2. What are the different types of respirators?
There are several types of respirators that range from escape respirators, which are used in emergencies to gas mask respirators which filter chemical gases. However, the ones used to fight pollution and protect against infectious agents are particulate respirators. These are commonly known as air-purifying respirators. The N95 respirator is a type of particulate respirator.
3. Can surgical mask protect against pollution?
According to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control(CDC), surgical masks are not designed to filter out particulate matter and other air pollutants. They can act as a barrier against droplets of large respiratory particles but fail to filter out particulate matter 10 and 2.5. Hence, it is not wise to use a surgical mask to protect against pollution.
4. What is N95 mask used for?
N 95 mask is used to filter out particulate matter. The N 95 label indicates that the filter blocks around 95% of the particulate matter (PM). The size of the PM can vary in size which can range from 10, 2.5 to 0.3 micron, which is the smallest. However, it fails to filter oil and oil-based pollutants. These pollutants tend to stay in the air for a longer time and hence, the chance of being inhaled is more.
5. What is N99 respirator?
As the name suggests, N99 anti-pollution mask filters out 99% of the particulate matter present in the air. Just like an N95 mask, it doesn’t filter out oil and oil-based pollutants but filter PM 10, 2.5 and 0.3 microns in size. However, the filtering capacity is more than that of N95.
6. Is N99 mask better than N95?
Yes, N 99 mask is better than N95 masks simply because N99 has a slightly higher filtration rate of particulate matter than N95. Hence, it is wise to opt for N99 than N95 if you are seeking protection against severe pollution.
7. Do N95 masks protect against flu?
It goes without saying that wearing a mask can prevent flu. However, use of respirators such as N95 is considered to be more effective in protecting you against the flu virus as compared to regular face masks. The reason being they are designed to filter out small particles in the air including the virus as well as bacteria.
8. Can I reuse N95/N99 mask?
You can reuse N95 mask, however, ensure you change it when it gets soiled or distorted. Also, remember not to share these masks as it can also increase the risk of transferring infections from one person to other.
9. How long can you wear a disposable mask?
The N95 and N99 respirators are disposable masks which should be discarded after 2-3 days. But if you are residing in an area where the level of pollution is too high, then it is advised to change it more frequently.
10. What do the letters N, P, and R stand for in the names of air pollution masks?
The respirators are labelled as N, R, and P which stands for “not oil resistant”, “oil resistant” and “oil proof” respectively. N95 and N99 masks are easily available and recommended for use in a polluted area with high level of PM. However, if you stay near factories that emit high levels of oil-based pollutants, then picking the one with an “R” or “P” label is best.
11. What are P95 and R95 masks?
P95 and R95 masks are similar to N95 masks, which are approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for 95% filtration capacity except for the fact that these can filter both oil-based and non-oil based PM. Hence, it is recommended for use in environments where exposure to oil-based particles is high.
However, P95 masks are better than R95 masks as P95 indicate strongly resistant to oil (oil proof) and R95 indicates oil resistant. Also, the shelf-life of R95 masks is less (around a day or two) whereas that of P95 masks is around a month.
12. Which mask to buy for pollution?
There are numerous anti-pollution masks available in India to breathe clean air. Some of the most popular brands of respirators are Vogmask, Dettol SiTi, Atlanta Cambridge masks, etc.
13. Which mask is the best anti-pollution mask?
The best anti-pollution mask is the one that filters out most of the particulate matter in the air and helps you breathe cleaner air. Hence, when buying a respirator always look for the label N95, N99, P95, or R95, as these are approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
However, if you have any respiratory health problems or if you suffer from a heart disease, it is wise to consult a doctor before investing in a respirator. Also, do check if the mask fits you properly because if you do not use a respirator correctly, it might fail to protect you against pollution and possible infections. Hence, learn how to correctly put the mask on and wear it correctly. Here is how to wear a mask correctly to fight air pollution.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)