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Surgical Mask vs. N95 Respirator: What's the Difference?

Surgical Mask vs. N95 Respirator: What's the Difference?


COVID-19 has been influencing our daily lives to a great extent. It continues to spread at a rate that is unstoppable in many regions and the fear of the virus continues to rise just as fast. With the rapid spread of the COVID-19, the usage of masks has increased around the world, putting more emphasis on the importance of selecting, wearing, and disposing the masks correctly.

Perhaps, you are confused about the differences between all the different types of masks out there and are experiencing difficulty deciding the right mask for yourself and your loved ones. In the hopes of clarifying your confusion and in helping you choose the correct mask for your protection, the differences between the surgical mask and N95 Respirator will be discussed. 

So, what is a surgical mask? 

A surgical mask's intended use is to provide the individual with protection from large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily as well as other fluids. Recently, many individuals have been wearing it to prevent themselves from touching their face, which can help in blocking the virus from entering the body through the nose and mouth area in an immediate environment. However, wearing a surgical mask does not guarantee safety from coronavirus. Although it is effective in blocking fluid particles as mentioned above, because the mask is loose in fitting, it does not block small particles in the air, germs, and other contaminants that could be transmitted by coughs or sneezes.  

Due to its inability to prevent inhaling small airborne particles, it is not considered as a reliable respiratory protection. Keep in mind that a surgical mask is for a single use only and it is recommended that individuals discard the mask after each use. 

Then, what is a N95 Respirator?

A N95 Respirator is another type of mask that has been worn by many individuals against coronavirus. A N95 Respirator is evaluated, tested and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its intended purpose is to reduce the wearer's exposure to small aerosol particles including viruses and bacteria, and large droplets. 

Its name proposes that the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of tiny particles of size 0.3 micron and when worn properly, its filtration exceeds those of other face masks. However, it is important to remember that even when the mask is properly fitted, it does not guarantee an elimination of risk from illness or death that could be caused by the coronavirus. Unlike a surgical mask, a N95 Respirator is designed to form a tight facial fit as well as a seal around the nose and mouth area. A user seal check is required every time the respirator is put on an individual and it should ideally be discarded after an encounter with each patient and aerosol-generating procedures.

What should you be aware of?

  • Moving from room to room while wearing the same mask can cross contaminate, therefore, disposing after single use is strongly recommended. 
  • Individuals with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions should confirm with the healthcare provider before using the N95 Respirator as it can make breathing more difficult. 
  • To safely discard the mask, put the mask in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Make sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water!
  • A proper tight fit cannot be provided for children or adults with facial hair. Therefore, the N95 Respirator will not give full protection and is not recommended to be used by children.

Message from Fortes Health:

We hope that this information will better inform you and your loved ones in choosing the right mask to prevent coronavirus from impacting your lives. In the meantime, please make sure to wash your hands with soap and water frequently, avoid touching your face, and stay home. 

Your small action can change the lives of many people and in reducing the spread of coronavirus. Don’t forget that what you do counts and is impacting the lives of those around you. Stay healthy and stay positive!


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