I am going to share some information with you. During the recent and large brush fires that we experienced here in southwest Florida, I heard several people speak about wearing “masks” to help deal with the smoke. Of course, the masks that people refer to are nothing more than those used by doctors, surgical masks.
And we have seen these masks used in several different settings by common people in every day situations. The masks are worn to prevent inhaling allergens or dust, perhaps with the belief that it will protect the person from inhaling a contagion such as the flu or cold. People can be seen walking the streets, on airplanes, even in doctor waiting rooms, wearing these masks.
You are not as protected wearing these types of masks as you think you are. In fact, if anything, to a certain degree you protect other people from you.
If you are going to wear a mask, you want to make sure it will serve the purpose you are wearing it. But honestly, a plain surgical mask is nothing more than a sneeze/cough catcher, and possibly preventing a direct hit of the wearer’s bad breath. The material is too thin, and it also does not “seal”, and that is the important word, seal around your mouth and nose. The only way to prevent inhaling smoke, dust, allergens, or contagions, is wearing something called a respirator.
Respirators come in various styles. What I have pictured is a common respirator. I know this because at one time in my life, I worked in an environment that required “respirator training.” In other words, learning and making sure you use the respirator properly. A respirator when properly worn, will seal and prevent any outside hazards from being inhaled. The mask has material built inside, to crimp around the contour of your jaw and nose, making a seal. If you are wearing it properly, as you breath, you will feel the respirator almost “suck” to your face. That means that there is a seal. And if it does not, then you are basically wearing it as if it were a surgical mask, offering little if no protection at all.
Of course, in a professional setting, the training involved a lot more than just putting it on and seeing if it stuck to your face. I actually wore a hood over top of my head, while wearing the respirator, while a mild scent was sprayed inside the hood. If I could smell the material, then I did not have a seal.
When you are trying to prevent something from entering your lungs, you need to wear the correct mask, and a surgical mask is not it. A surgical mask will not protect you from smoke inhalation, grass allergies, dust storms, or someone with a case of the flu. The rule is quite simple, and you do not to be a professional, if you can smell it, you definitely are not protected from it.