Face Mask vs Respirator Comparison
The difference between the face mask and the respirator has never been understood by majority of the people in the world. The two might appear the same in appearance but the way they are designed and operate are much different. The differences are usually noticed in terms of fit against face, wearing time, intended use, testing and approval. This review is intended to highlight the difference between the two which is essentially important with healthcare givers. Basically, patients may be given surgical or procedure masks so that healthcare givers and other patients in the vicinity may be protected against the spread of viruses and bacteria. To understand the concept between the face mask and the respirator, we have broken down the two of them so that we can understand one part after the other before we can proceed to the difference.
What are face masks?
A face make is literally a loose-fitting mask which is designed to cover your nose and mouth and the area around them. A face mask features two ear straps which are in most cases elastic to stretch around the ears so that the mask can be held in the rightful position. The wearer uses the mask as a one-way protection alone. The user uses the mask against spreading large particles or droplets from him/her to the environment or people around. They can be used against the spread of flu, common cold and the lately Corona virus and the likes. Note that the mask can’t be used to protect the one who is wearing it but the environment around him/her. There isn’t any typical protection factor that the masks have are neither approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What are respirators?
Respirators are tight-fitting masks designed to seal the face of the wearer. Respirators are designed to create two-way protection. They filter the air that enters and leaves the person who has worn it at a designated level efficiency by the respirator. The respirator is designed in two different ways, to cover half of the face or the whole face. They also come in three categories which are distinct: Disposable which are the typical N95 and are for healthcare uses, the half-face and the full-face. It is imperative to understand what is the best n95 respirator mask.
Any disposable respirator is made with a metal nose piece, a safety designation (for example N95), two elastic straps and has a NIOSH approval on each of them. They are used mostly with healthcare givers and any worker who can get exposure to airborne pathogens at the place of their deployment. They are literally single use and they offer a high level degree of efficiency when used in a proper way.
The half-face and full-face Respirators
These two categories of respirators are not disposable and they feature two elastic straps, two cartridge/filter pieces and a mouth. Besides, they come with a NIOSH approval on each of them. The half-face respirator only covers the area around the nose and mouth. The full-face respirator on the other hand is designed to cover the whole face. Bothe the half-face and full-face respirators creates a facial seal when worn and filters the air that enters and exits the wearer’s airway. The only difference that lies between the half/full-face and the disposable respirators is that with half/full-face respirator, you can change through a couple of filters and cartridges so that you can meet required safety needs without entirely changing the mask.
What are the notable things to differentiate between a face mask and a respirator by looking at them?
There is generally no apparent immediate physical difference that you can always note unless you have some knowledge about the two. A keen observer and anyone who has some knowledge will differentiate a face mask from a respirator through the approval rating. A respirator always has an approval rating marked on it and the ratings are usually in form of N95, N99, N100 and so on. Face masks don’t have such ratings on them however, in some cases you might find some face masks that have been approved as respirators and they have the N95 surgical mask rating.
Understanding Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PPE)
Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PPE) is one of the common tests carried out on face masks. It is usually a quality indicator of the face mask and not an indicator for the respirator protection performance. A face mask that is tested to be with a very high PPE of say 95% may be at a lower percentage of 70 when the same is carried out with the NIOSH N95 test procedure. The NIOSH filtration efficiency testing and the PPE testing are not the same and should be compared at all.
What are the different types of ratings in respirators?
Respirator ratings are in different categories. Respirator filters that are capable of collecting 95% of air impurities have the N95 rating. Those that can manage a capacity of 99% are rated as N99 and those which have the capacity of collecting at least 99.97% which is essentially 100% have the N100 rating.
In the case of respirators which are which can be re-used for longer periods, the user should always replace the respirator when;
- The mask is damaged or becomes deformed in any way
- Doesn’t provide an effective seal to the face
- Feels wet or becomes very dirty
- It becomes very hard to breathe through
- When there is contamination with blood or there is nasal or respiratory secretion or there are other bodily fluids experienced at any point.
Face masks on the other hand are one time use and users are advised to follow the instructions of the manufacturer which is always indicated on the leaflet. It is important for users to note that face masks or surgical masks are not capable of filtering small particles from the air as the respirators have been known to do. Surgical masks are also not designed to seal against the face tightly like the respirators. Face masks are also barriers to droplets , spit and splashes.
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