- Respiratory protection works to protect health care and emergency workers from inhaling chemicals or infectious particles.
- Respiratory masks, such as N95 face masks, are more effective than surgical masks in preventing the spread of disease – and they should be worn by healthcare professionals dealing with sick patients.
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Respirators, more commonly known as face masks, are designed to protect health care and emergency workers from chemicals and infectious particles.
Surgical masks can be helpful if you are ill as they prevent the wearer’s bacteria from spreading to other people. If you are a healthcare professional and want to protect yourself from acquiring a disease or inhaling other dangerous particles, a respirator will be more effective.
Here’s what you need to know about the different types of respirators, how they work, and who may need one.
This is how respirators work
A respirator is a device that covers your nose and mouth and protects you from inhaling dangerous airborne substances, such as chemicals or infectious particles.
There are specific types of respirators for different scenarios, including:
- Escape respirators, which are only intended for use in emergencies, such as fire or the release of chemical vapors. These respirators are designed to protect you while you move in safety and are typically designed for short-term use for up to an hour.
- Gas masks, which purifies chemical gases out of the air when you breathe. Gas mask cartridges filter certain biological or chemical substances, but there is no cartridge that protects you from all substances, so gas mask masks are only effective if you use the correct cartridge of the danger you face.
- Operated air purifying respirators (PAPR) Use the same filters as gas masks, but make breathing easier by using a fan to blow air through the filter.
- Respiratory protection with particles protect yourself from particles but not chemicals, gases or vapors. For example, healthcare professionals use N95 masks, which purify the air while you breathe and protect you from infectious particles, such as coronavirus.
Respiratory protection with particles protects healthcare professionals
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Respiratory protection, such as the commonly used N95 face masks, helps protect healthcare professionals from inhaling infectious particles while treating patients who may be contagious. They have been particularly important during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The N95 masks help filter out coronavirus particles so healthcare professionals do not breathe into them,” said Parshawn Lahiji, MD, emergency physician and critical care specialist and intern at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
In addition to a lack of medical equipment such as ventilators, many hospitals across the country are also experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as these N95 masks, which put health and safety personnel at risk.
In New York, some doctors recycle N95 respirators by storing them in a bag and putting them back on later. These masks are typically intended for single use only, and physicians use a new one for each patient interaction.
Respiratory protection is necessary to protect healthcare professionals, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend the use of respirators or N95 masks to the general public. Instead, the CDC recommends limiting exposure by staying home as much as possible, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your face.