What Does N95 Mean? How and When to Wear an N95 Mask

Over the past few months, it’s safe to say that we’ve all become more aware of the importance of PPE, and the increase in mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most essential elements of personal protective equipment, has allowed us to appreciate their efficacy like at no other time. Masks help to prevent virus droplets entering the respiratory system and stop an infected person from exposing others to risk, something which has proven critical in the fight against the coronavirus. 

However, today, people are wearing different types of masks in different environments, and from your standard cotton face covering to the iconic surgical mask, each offers different levels of respiratory protection and filtration efficiency. One of the most widely recognised standards used in medical settings is N95, and many healthcare workers will already be familiar with this type of disposable respirator. These types of masks are used in hospitals, clinics and doctors surgeries but they are also becoming increasingly common outside of these settings as members of the public strive to stop the spread of the virus and protect themselves from airborne contaminants.

For those unaware of the difference between a surgical N95 respirator and say, a less protective surgical mask or cotton face covering, here we look at exactly what these highly effective masks entail. Additionally, if you’re currently looking to restock your supplies of PPE, investing in good quality masks is essential, and here we take a closer look at how to wear them and how they can protect you and your patients from infection.

What is a N95 Particulate Respirator?

N95 particulate respirator is a face mask that’s designed to filter out particulates as low as 0.3 microns. This type of facemask was originally developed for use in the mining and construction industries, specifically manufactured to protect the wearer from breathing in potentially dangerous particles in the atmosphere. N95 respirators have also been shown to be effective as protection against engineered nanoparticles and other aerosols. 

Standard N95 respirators will protect the wearer from a range of particles including dust, paint droplets and airborne pollution. They won’t protect against gasses or vapours and they are only effective in the absence of oil particles such as lubricants, cutting fluids and glycerine.

If you want to protect yourself from virus droplets and infection, you need to look for a surgical N95 mask. These types of masks are designed to offer a tighter fit around the nose and mouth. This helps to prevent virus droplets being either inhaled or spread by the wearer. Using a N95 respirator mask correctly can significantly reduce the risk of infection and prevent the transmission of a virus.

N95 masks that are used in medical settings are not reusable and should be disposed of after each use. However, N95 respirators that are used for industrial purposes can be cleaned and re-worn multiple times.

There are some people who may not be able to wear N95 masks. This is because respirators can make breathing more difficult. If you have one of the following conditions, you should talk to your doctor before wearing a face covering.

·      Emphysema

·      Pulmonary fibrosis

·      Claustrophobia

·      Panic attacks

·      Heart disease

·      Anxiety

·      Autism

What is a N95 Approved Mask?

When a mask has a N95 rating it shows that it meets the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) N95 classification for air filtration. This standard states that a respirator needs to filter at least 95% of airborne particles. The standard does not require the mask to be resistant to oil.

If a mask is N95 approved, it will prevent you from breathing in 95% of the particulates in the air around you. It won’t stop you from breathing oxygen. Only masks that meet this standard can be labelled as N95. These types of masks are also known as N95 filtering face piece respirators, and they are used by professionals in a number of industries including healthcare, construction and mining.

How Long Can You Wear a N95 Mask?

The length of time you can wear a N95 mask for will vary depending on the setting and the people you are coming into contact with. The CDC says that N95 respirator masks can be worn continuously for up to eight hours without a problem. This length of use is appropriate if you’re only working in healthcare settings where one patient or with a single group of patients are all infected with the same pathogen.

If you’re moving between hospital wards or between patients with unknown infections, a new mask should be worn for each occasion. Changing masks on a regular basis helps to prevent cross contamination and protect patients and staff from infection. If you’re moving between patients and don’t have an option to dispose of your mask, wearing a clear visor can help to prevent virus droplets and small particles contaminating the respirator.

Is a P2 Mask the Same as N95?

When looking for PPE supplies, you may well see some face masks with a N95 rating and others with a P2 classification. Both N95 and P2 masks offer a high level of protection with . N95 masks filter at least 95% of particulates from the air while P2 masks filter 94%. The main difference between the standards is the area of classification. While N95 masks are rated by NIOSH, P2 masks are regulated by the European Union.

How Does a N95 Mask Protect Against Viruses?

A lot of viruses are spread by airborne particles. These particles are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes next to a non-infected person. When the virus droplets are inhaled, the non-infected person can catch the virus and become ill.

N95 respirators help to protect against the spread of viruses by through particulate filtering that prevents virus droplets in air entering into the mouth or nose. If an infected person wears a N95 mask, the respirator will prevent virus droplets from spreading when the person coughs, sneezes or exhales. If a non-infected person wears a N95 mask, they will be protected from 95% of the virus droplets in the air and have a much lower risk of becoming infected.

How to Wear a N95 Respirator?

Wearing your N95 respirator correctly will ensure you benefit from the full protection of the face mask. The respirator needs to cover both your nose and mouth and should form an air-tight seal with your face. If you’re not sure how to wear a N95 mask, ask your employer for guidance.

 What is a N95 Respirator Fit Test?

A N95 Respirator Fit Test is used to ensure people using N95 masks know how to properly use the PPE. During the test, employees will be asked to try on a selection of N95 respirators. The person carrying out the test will check to see if the wearer is able to create an air-tight seal between the mask and their face. This is important as an air-tight seal will prevent contaminated air escaping from the mask and also prevent virus droplets entering the mask.

Fit Tests should be carried out when this type of mask is first used and then every year after that. Once an employee has established which type of N95 mask fits them best, they should stick to this style for all future use.

What Are N95 Mask Sizes?

N95 masks are available in a range of sizes. This helps to ensure masks fit the wearer precisely. The way masks are sized varies depending on the manufacturer, and in most cases, you’ll be able to choose from small, small/medium, medium and medium/large sizes.

If you work for a company or organisation that requires you to wear a N95 mask, they should provide you with a choice of sizes for your fit test. This will give you the opportunity to try on a few different sizes and find the mask that best fits your face shape.

What is a N95 HEPA Mask?

HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air filter. HEPA filters are incredibly effective, removing between 99.95% and 99.999% of particulates from the air while also protecting the wearer from allergens, bacteria, mould, pollution and viruses.

N95 respirators aren’t fitted with HEPA filters and only remove 95% of particulates from the air. In most medical settings, a N95 mask will offer sufficient protection. If you need more protection than a N95 mask provides, look for a HEPA air-purifying respirator or N100 respirator instead.

What is a N95 Particulate Respirator Made Of?

Most N95 particulate respirator masks are made from synthetic plastic fibres. These fibres are woven into a fine mesh and are able to catch at least 95% of particulates that pass through them. Polypropylene is one of the most common polymers used in the production of N95 masks.

Where Can You Buy a N95 Mask in Australia?

As N95 masks are an important part of PPE, they should always be purchased from a reliable supplier. This is true whether you’re working in construction, mining or healthcare.

If you plan to buy a mask from a local hardware shop or another non-specialist retailer, make sure the mask is rated N95 and not KN95. The KN rating shows the product is made in China. And although these masks are supposed to meet the same standards as N95 respirators, NIOSH has found that, in many cases, KN95 masks fall well below standard.

A good quality N95 mask will probably cost between $40 and $80. Discounts are often available for bulk orders, so if you’re purchasing on behalf of a clinic, hospital or group, make sure you take a look at the offers available before you buy.

For the best choice of single-use N95 masks and the most competitive prices, take a look at the Medshop Australia collection today.

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