What is a Mask and what is its Purpose

The word mask brings up images of cultural celebrations such as, Halloween and even beauty product masks that enhance the quality of our complexion

This article focuses on masks as they pertain to the medical field, health-care professionals and infectious diseases.

A surgical mask Vs a disposable respirator mask

A surgical mask is worn by health care professionals during surgical, dental and medical procedures. The purpose of wearing a surgical mask is to provide a barrier or shield to prevent bacteria, liquid droplets or aerosol from the nose and mouth of the wearer during a medical procedure. It also can protect the wearer from splashes of blood or other body fluid during a procedure.

Surgical masks are not tested by the Food and Drug Administration. (FDA) Instead the manufacturer must present data to the FDA regarding their proposed claims, such as bacterial and filtration efficiency, fluid resistance and flammability testing. The FDA reviews these claims then clears the mask for marketing. These masks are made of paper or synthetic material.

A disposable respirator mask (that looks similar to a surgical mask) is worn by health-care professionals and other individuals in instances where isolation from an airborne disease is necessary. The purpose of wearing a disposable respirator mask or particulate respirator is to reduce the wearer’s exposure to respiratory airborne contaminants which maybe particles, gases or vapors. These masks can reduce exposure to minute inhaled particles, less than 100 microns in size e.g. mold, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis,Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, (SARS) and other airborne diseases.

Disposable respirator masks must be tested and certified by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (NIOSH) They must also have NIOSH and their filter classification printed on them. These mask must also be fitted to the individual so that the seal to the wearer’s face is perfect.

A good surgical mask is:

Efficient in filtering, material and design.

It ties on or loops over the ears.

It has a high filter efficiency.

Gives barrier protection from blood and other body fluids.

Is an allergenic free mask.

Has anti-fog properties so that individuals who wear glasses can see clearly.

The operating room is the area where the most surgical masks are worn.

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) states, “that surgical masks should be worn at all times in the operating room and in environments where open sterile supplies or scrubbed personnel may be located. Masks should also be secured in a manner to prevent venting.”

Surgical and disposable respirator masks are one time use only. These masks should be changed after a couple hours. It is not unusual to see an individual wearing a surgical mask out in public. Usually these individuals have a weakened immune system and wear the masks to protect themselves from contaminants in the environment.