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September 28, 2020

Face masks were not so common among general population but COVID-19 pandemic has made them a every household item. Previously they were only seen on the faces of medical professional while delivering patient care or on the faces of some scientists while working in their labs. So, let’s look at how these surgical face masks and other masks work to protect us from possible harmful organisms.

Surgical masks when worn properly cover your face and mouth. They form a physical barrier which prevent airborne particles from coming in direct contact with you oral and nasal mucosa. Harmful micro-organisms cannot enter in your body through you intact skin but they can do so through your richly blood supplied oral and nasal mucosa. That is where face masks come in. There are a variety of masks available in the market and every mask is intended to serve a specific subset of population. Surgical masks when worn properly covering both your nose and mouth provide a physical barrier and protect you against large airborne particles, splashes, droplets and sprays. But surgical masks are not recommended if you are intending to visit a highly contaminated area because surgical masks do not have very tight seal around your face and hence small sized air-borne particles can squeeze in and can potentially infect you.

Surgical masks provide you a good level of protection if you are not a medical professional directly involved in patient care. If you are a medical professional then N-95 masks are recommended for you. N-95 masks are not recommended for general population. Surgical masks provide you adequate level of protection during your visits to areas with low likelihood of being infected like stores, malls, while taking a walk etc. Surgical masks can also be used by store keepers to safeguard themselves from possible infected customer. Surgical masks when worn by an infected person also helps in limiting the spread of the disease to others as his droplets are not able to escape in the open air freely thereby limiting the disease spread.

All variety of masks work on the same principle of creating a physical barrier. But the intensity of protection depends on the mask thickness and seal they attain with your face. Masks to be used by medical professionals are more think with small pore diameter and provide tight seal against face to provide high level of protection. All these properties of N-95 masks also make them uncomfortable as the wearer needs a strain a little to catch his normal breath. Surgical masks on the other hand are intended to be used by general public who are less likely to visit a highly contaminated area. Their low thickness and loose seal make them more breathable and can be worn comfortably for longer hours. Surgical masks can also be worn comfortably by elderly population as it does not hamper with normal breathing too much and provide considerable level of protection compared to cloth masks.