Surgical masks have been in use for quite a long time now. They were commonly used by medical professionals but now the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded their use to common public as well. Masks are a part of personal protective equipment and are aimed to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from possible liquid contaminants of the face. Surgical masks are disposable loose-fitting masks that provide a physical barrier between the wearer and the immediate surrounding.
Surgical masks are not supposed to be shared and they are regulated under 21 CFR 878.4040. Surgical masks come in different qualities and this variation in quality determines their thickness. Lower quality masks lets you breathe more comfortably due to their low thickness but also provide lower level of protection due to potential breach of barrier by smaller micron size particle for e.g. viruses. Higher quality surgical masks are relatively thicker and provide relatively better protection against smaller organisms but the increased thickness also comes in way of comfortable breathing and the wearer can feel some un-comfort while using high quality surgical masks. But high-quality surgical masks will also definitely protect you more efficiently.
If worn properly surgical masks will provide protection against large-particles, droplets, sprays, splatter and sprays that may contain viruses and bacteria and hence will block the bad particles from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks offer dual benefit, apart from protecting you they also confer protection to others by blocking your saliva and respiratory secretions from coming in contact with others.
However, considering the loose-fitting nature of surgical masks they do not confer protection against very small sized particles. Main reason for this is the loose fit between mask and your skin surface which confers some gap for the small particles to pass through. However, this becomes a major disadvantage only in highly contaminated areas and use of N95 respirators are recommended and you are expected to visit a contaminated area.
However, it should be kept in mind that surgical masks are intended for one time use only. If the surgical mass is soiled, damaged, or if breathing through the masks is too difficult then the current mask in use should be discarded properly and replaced with a new one. Surgical masks are also strictly intended for single person use only and they should not the shared among friends and family after use. Each person should use their own single use surgical masks.
Proper handling of the surgical masks is also very important. They should be handled by their ear straps and avoid touching the main barrier area of surgical masks with your hands as it can spoil and contaminate them. You should thoroughly clean your hand before and after handling a surgical mask and avoid touching your masks when it is on your face. After your surgical masks has been used for intended purpose, place it in a plastic bag and discard in trash. And do remember to wash your hands after handling a used mask.