If you work in areas where there are airborne particles that you need to protect yourself from, a mask is an important part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respiratory protection program. Wearing one is not as simple as it may appear, and there are several details to be aware of in order to properly protect yourself. The first step in wearing a N95 mask properly is knowing when to wear it and when not to wear it. This can be determined by your employer or by conducting your own research.
How do you know if you need one?
An N95 mask is a facemask that covers your nose and mouth, much like surgical masks do. They are intended to shield you from airborne particles such as dust, pollen, mold, and even small viruses (such as colds) that enter your mouth or nose. When you have a cold, you should always wear a face mask, but it is especially important if there are others in your household who could catch it from you.
When should you wear it?
According to a CDC spokesman, a large percentage of Americans will be exposed to germs during a pandemic, so chances are you’ll need one. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months old wear a N95 mask, but it also recommends against them for children under 5 years old.
You should wear your mask during times when you may be exposed to dangerous particulates that could harm your health. This can include dust storms, forest fires, or chemical spills. You might even want to wear it if a government entity issues an air pollution alert. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need a mask for each person in your household: the filter is only designed for one person.
Which masks should you purchase?
When choosing a mask, look for one with two straps that covers your nose and mouth. The best ones will filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles 0.3 microns or larger, which should be enough to keep you safe during a pandemic. You’ll want to put it on with both straps over your head—if you wear one strap under your chin, it may not work as well and could come off more easily.
Putting on the mask
When wearing your mask, make sure it covers at least two thirds of your face. Check that both straps are snug around your head but not too tight, and that they do not obstruct your vision or breathing. If you wear glasses, they may need to be adjusted. Wear your mask around others and in public if you intend to stay inside during a flu pandemic until you feel comfortable doing so without it.
Making the Most of Your Mask
In a pandemic, the type of mask you wear will have a significant impact on your ability to breathe normally. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth while wearing a N95 mask. Wear tightly buttoned or zipped-up clothes and closed-toed shoes to prevent air from seeping in around the bottom and edges of your mask.