Face Mask: Surgical Face Masks vs N95 Respirators

The world is faced with one of the most challenging conditions, fighting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19. The situation has already been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic causing thousands of people ill.

There are a few types of protective equipment that are being offered to protect the wearer from droplets or particles that are airborne. There are N95 respirators and surgical masks that help prevent liquid from contaminating one’s face. Both types help guard the respiratory system. This medical equipment is easily available over the counter or could also be ordered directly from its provider. Below, we discuss the main differences between these (2) two equipment. We will explain their use and practicality.

Surgical Face Masks

Surgical masks or face masks are the ones we would see typically worn by personnel that provides hospital, dental and medical care. They are worn to cover the nose and mouth to prevent direct liquid contaminants splatter. These masks are made with different levels of thickness which help block large particles of liquid that may contain germs, bacteria and in this case, virus.

Surgical masks or face masks are not only meant to reduce exposure from the immediate environment. It can be worn in a way to help contain your saliva and respiratory secretions in the event where you are a risk contributor to others. Although these surgical masks are a protective gear, it can only do so much to block liquid particles. The particles that are very small in the air cannot be completely filtered.

These masks are lightweight and have a pleated style that provides a full nose until under the chin coverage. Surgical and face masks are worn by tucking the strings on each side of your ear, and then by pulling the pleats from nose to chin. A bendable nose piece is squeezed to fit the contour of the nose to ensure a firm fit.

These masks are made for one-time use and must immediately be disposed of after. It must not be reused. Moreover, it cannot be shared. Choosing to reuse masks will only make matters worse because it has already harbored viruses, bacteria, and other germs that it is supposed to repel. When breathing becomes difficult, the masks should be discarded and be replaced with a new one.

N95 Respirators

N95 Respirators are more hard-core when it comes to filtering airborne particles. According to medical lab results, the respirator carried the label “95” because it can filter 95% of the tested particles which exceeds the capabilities of face masks or surgical masks.

These masks provide a better fit to one’s face, making it more efficient to protect the wearer from liquid particles. The mask is worn by taking the two bands over one’s head. The lower band should fit snug at the back of the head where the nape is located. The upper band should fit at the back as well, but this time, where your crown is located.

Since the N95 Respirators are thicker than usual face masks or surgical masks, breathing may be a bit difficult for those that have respiratory conditions. Thus, before being worn, one must consider the capabilities and their purpose. Some model designs are offered with exhalation valves which help reduce the heat when worn.

Similarly, with surgical masks or face masks, the N95 respirators are made for one-time use and must be discarded after. Since the N95 respirators are offered with a one-size-fits style, it is not advisable to be placed on children who have a smaller facial frame and for men who have facial hair. This is because it will not be able to cover the target facial area to provide full protection.

Surgical Masks vs N95 Respirators

The Surgical Masks and N95 Respirators are both protective gear. However, the main difference between the two is the quality of the filter. Surgical masks are fitted a bit more loosely compared to N95 respirators. And not all face masks are that tend to be sold are considered as surgical masks. One must deeply scrutinize the make and quality to ensure that the right equipment is acquired.

N95 Respirators tend to have full cupping over the nose and mouth. And of course, the quality to filter is much higher compared to surgical masks. It does, however, tend to build up more heat because of its tight fit. Both surgical masks and N95 respirators are disposable. Let us compare these 2 from various aspects:

Governing US Body for Testing and Approval

According to research, different government bodies tested and cleared the use of this equipment. The Surgical Masks have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration while the N95 Respirators are cleared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health section of the US Federal agency.

Intention and Purpose of Protective Equipment

Both of these equipment deemed resistant to fluid penetration. Surgical Masks can protect the wearer from large droplets, splatters, and splashes of contaminated fluid. It can also be worn to protect the immediate environment from the wearer’s respiratory secretions.

The N95 Respirators are more tailored to protect the wearer from exposure to particles whether large or small particles. Provided that, it has those liquid particles that are not oil-based.

Experiencing and Testing Wearable Facial Fit

As described, surgical masks are loosely-fitted in comparison to N95 Respirators. The later part tends to be more secured when worn because of its cup-like fitting. The sides and edges of the N95 Respirator tend to fully cover the nose and mouth. In addition to this, the N95 Respirators have gone more comprehensive testing which makes it more effective as protective gear.

Capability to Seal

The necessity to check the seal is not necessary for Surgical masks because they are made to be worn with less constraint while N95 Respirators must be checked each time it is worn.

Filter Capabilities

The filtration for Surgical masks is not as reliable as the N95 Respirators. Nonetheless, it still offers a degree of protection. N95 Respirators, as its label mentions – can filter out 95% of airborne particles.

Vulnerability to Leakage

When the N95 is properly fitted, there is minimal leakage compared to surgical masks. The edges of surgical masks are not as secured which gives tends to allow more particles to enter and escape from the mask.

Level of Disposability

Both are considered disposable and must be discarded. However, the N95 Respirators tend to last a bit longer because of its sturdy quality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published several preventive measures to reduce the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). We must understand how and when to use surgical masks and N95 respirators to ensure optimal use. Wearing such medical equipment may certainly prevent airborne transmission. However, we must remember that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus’ transmission is not necessarily airborne.