Are There Other Times I Can Use My Face Mask (Other Than a Global Pandemic)?

If you’re like us, you’re thinking far beyond this COVID-19 outbreak and trying to consider other cases when you might need a mask, like an N95. For most of us who don’t work in the medical field or high-risk conditions, finding good reasons to have a serious piece of PPE (personal protective equipment) may be easier than you think.

Allergy Season

As all allergy sufferers know, over-the-counter medications don’t always do the job. You’re still left sneezing, stuffed up, and hoping for relief. An N95 mask or respirator can be added to your regimen as a way to find relief without adding more pills. Wearing one outdoors will decrease the amount of allergens you breathe in. The mask, when fitted correctly, will easily filter out pollen and other allergens, which are roughly 10 to 40 microns in size. N95 masks are rated to screen out 95% of pollutants 0.3 microns and bigger.

Pollution and Low Air Quality Days

For many folks living in big cities or other places that have days when the inversion layer is dense, having a good respirator will come in very handy. This is not as common for people living in rural areas that don’t experience as many low air quality days.

For years, people throughout Asia have worn light surgical masks on smoggy days or as soon as a notice goes out about an airborne illness. This has become part of the culture in some countries and cities. It is important to note, these masks do little more than prevent large droplets from entering the wearer’s mouth and nose. They often provide less protection than expected from the pollution or contagions in the air. While some masks may have less filtering abilities, there is a sort of placebo effect: it is culturally normal to wear a mask and may prevent the spread of disease due to less exposure to contagions. Commitment to breathing in good air as a culture norm is not harmful.

Be sure you’re investing in a mask that filters out microns in the air if you are wearing it on days with bad air pollution. This is especially important for those with a compromised immune systems.

Visiting Someone Who is Sick

When entering any facility that is treating people who are sick, it is a good idea to be as prepared for the situation as possible. A simple cloth face mask is not going to give you the protection that you are seeking, however an N95 will help prevent both the transmission of and infection from airborne illnesses.

With regards to the transmission of any infections that you might be carrying, the wearing of a mask contains any of the fluids that are naturally expelled when you talk, cough or sneeze.

In terms of you becoming infected, we know that one of the most vulnerable areas for contracting viruses and bugs is the face; more specifically your mouth and nose. By wearing a meaningful face mask, you are not only filtering out particles in the air that you could be breathing in, but you are also inhibiting the natural act of touching your face.

Visiting Someone Who is in Long-term Care

One of the most heart-wrenching figures when looking at the number of cases and deaths due to many illnesses, including COVID-19, have been in our nursing and long-term care homes. As more of these facilities allow family members to visit, the necessity to safeguard our elderly relatives, as well as ourselves, is to have an N95 mask on at all times and fitted appropriately so there is no need to touch or adjust it for any reason. Wouldn’t you trade some one-on-one time with someone you love for a little bit of inconvenience with a mask? Everyone benefits in the end.

Wildfire Smoke and Ash

Every year, we hear about wildfires in places across the United States and elsewhere. It seems like they are becoming larger and more destructive as the years pass. Communities downwind from the fires are sometimes inundated with smoke and ash, thus creating dangerous levels of gases and fine particulates that can travel hundreds of miles before settling or dissipating.

The CDC will often have local and sometimes national news networks recommend certain vulnerable populations people stay indoors and try to avoid the smoke. If you must leave your home for work, appointments, and travel, wearing an N95 mask can filter out the bad air.

Having an N95 respirator can allow these individuals to continue with their normal lives rather than being sheltered at home.

DIY Projects

During the last few months of downtime, many people have taken on new hobbies, completed home projects, and tackled deep cleaning that was long overdue. Many of these projects involve chemicals, dust, debris and combining cleaning solutions which cause lung irritations and inflammation.

Having a mask that can filter out these spray paint fumes, sawdust, drywall dust and other materials that end up in the air can help save you from damaging your lungs as you’re working away at your current project.

On the Job

Many jobs have some level of risk when it comes to airborne contaminants. State and Federal laws require employers to provide masks and other PPE for certain professions. That leaves many workers either unprotected or finding their own PPE. If this is you, don’t buy equipment that is subpar, especially when it comes to your long-term lung health.

Before you grab any personal face mask or other gear to take to work, check with your Safety Manager to get approval. Mark all your items with your name and absolutely, positively, don’t share your safety equipment, especially face masks, with anyone. This is one way illnesses can be carelessly shared.

Overall, there are numerous reasons and uses for an N95 respirator outside of our current pandemic. Please be sure to do your own homework and take into consideration your own health issues when considering any type PPE.