Face mask or respirator? Make a choice and breathe easier

This past year I’ve seen more people wearing face masks than ever before. And not only in hospitals and medical clinics, but all over the place. In fact, in about every public place I can think of.
 
I’m sure the dreadful flu had a lot to do with that. We experienced one of the worst flu seasons ever in 2017-18, and from what I’m hearing, it ain’t over yet.
 
Although basic, disposable face masks can be limiting in their effectiveness – they’re better for protecting against pollen, dust and cut grass than anything more serious – they are something we should definitely include among our preparedness stockpiles.
 
And that’s at home and in our bug-out bags, as well as in our vehicles and at our workplaces.
 
We never know where a pandemic can break out. If you get caught up in an urban riot, you may be in the vicinity of tear gas.
 
And what if chemicals are used in a terrorist attack? Or an extreme weather event could cause flooding that results in the spread of dangerous contaminants, such as mold or fumes.
 
In each of those cases, you may be able to limit at least some of the ill effects with a basic face mask until you can reach a safer location or get your hands on a more effective face mask or respirator.
 
The best thing about your basic face mask is that, depending on its thickness, it can block large-particle contaminants, including sprays, splashes, splatter and droplets that could contain bacterial or viral germs. And they’re inexpensive.
 
If you are sick but have to be out in public, it’s a good idea to wear one for the protection of others. Just as you would want a sick person to wear one if they were around you.
 
But since you should only wear a face mask once, it’s good to have a significant supply of them on hand. And remember, they are not to be shared.

N95 Face masks Are More Effective

In addition to the basic face mask, you should also have N95 (or higher) face masks handy.
 
They are much more effective than basic face masks at protecting us from airborne and liquid particles that could infect our lungs, not to mention our faces.
 
Unlike basic face masks, N95 face masks block smaller contaminants that could come toward you from someone sneezing or coughing. The claim is that they block at least 95 percent of small particles measuring 0.3 microns and larger.
 
Also, N95 face masks provide a tighter, more conforming fit, which provides fuller protection than the typically looser basic face mask.
 
Use the adjustable straps for a tight but comfortable fit. One downside is they don’t fit quite as well if you have facial hair.
 
Sometimes there is a heat build-up when wearing one of these N95 face masks, or excess moisture and fogging. But the masks with “cool flow valves” help to ease those issues.
 
N95 face masks have been tested thoroughly for their filtration efficiency. And they are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is a federal agency under the umbrella of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consider an Upgrade to N99

Now, if you have more cash to spare and want to increase your protection, you can upgrade to an N99 face mask.
 
The reusable Cambridge Mask, for example, also provides protection against gases, smoke, smells, pollen and pathogens, including bacteria and viruses.
 
These masks use a triple-layer filter system. The company claims they protected against “almost 100% of particulate pollution, bacteria and viruses” when independently tested by Nelson Labs, USA.

Respirators Offer Even More

Another option for protecting yourself from breathing in contaminants is a respirator. This type of face mask provides 95 percent filter efficiency against liquid and solid aerosols plus certain organic vapors.
 
Respirators may be the better choice for those with breathing issues under normal circumstances, as well as allergies. It’s like an N95 face mask on steroids. They usually cost about $30 apiece.
 
Regardless of which face mask or respirator you choose, you can increase your overall protection by also wearing safety goggles.
 
You can even find a full facepiece respirator, which will also protect your eyes, if you’re willing to spend more.
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