Dust, pollen, mold, and animal hair are common allergens that can be found indoors and outdoors. Contact with these allergens can cause allergic reactions, which can cause difficulty breathing, as well as persistent coughing and sneezing. Sound familiar?
Just as allergies can cause some of the same symptoms as the ones associated with COVID-19, some of the same masks can be used as prevention for both, as well. An allergy face mask creates a physical barrier between the mouth and the nose of the wearer and allergens (or viruses) in the air. High-quality allergy face masks also help filter the air you breathe.
Let’s take a closer look at how allergy masks work, and how to use them properly as protection against the spread of the coronavirus.
Using an allergy face mask against the coronavirus
The coronavirus can be transmitted when an uninfected person comes in contact with droplets from an infected person’s coughs and/or sneezes. These droplets can either be large or small and can remain suspended in the air or travel some distance.
Proper wearing of the right face mask offers protection from these droplets. Surgical-grade N95 respirators are a type of face mask that offers a high level of protection against the coronavirus, however, a lack of supply has led to the use of disposable surgical masks, even dust masks or homemade cloth masks. Wearing any sort of protective mask is better than nothing, and allergy masks are no exception.
How to choose the right allergy face mask
Before buying an allergy face mask, you should consider the type of pollutants you want to filter and how long you are planning on wearing the face mask. Wearing a face mask intended for allergies for a long period of time may cause discomfort, so it’s important to put some thought into your choice.
Different types of face masks for allergies
Not all allergy masks are the same – here are some examples you can choose from:
All-purpose medical disposable masks are easily available since many companies produce them. These masks are able to provide protection from dust, pollen, bacteria, germs, mold, and even the coronavirus, to some extent.
Disposable surgical masks do not block very small particles transmitted by coughing and sneezing, nor do they provide complete protection from germs because they fit loosely. Surgical disposable masks offer three layers of protection and are made of soft fabric. The ear loops are also made of a soft elastic material, so they are relatively comfortable to wear.
3M offers a variety of different masks in the N95 series that cater to different needs. The N95 respirator masks are designed to fit your face very closely and form a seal around the nose and mouth.
These masks are very efficient in filtering airborne particles. The 9211 N95 Particulate Respirator Mask with Valve keeps out fine dust, allergens, viruses, and bacteria. It is NIOSH-certified to filter at least 95% of non-oiled based particles down to 0.3 microns.
Remember: when you’re wearing a face mask for allergies, it doesn’t matter so much what you breathe out of the vent. When you’re wearing it for coronavirus, you could be exhaling infected particles through the vent without even realizing it if you are an asymptomatic carrier. Practice extra social distancing when using an exhalation valve!
This is another mask by 3M in the N95 series. It is similar to the 9211 masks and offers the same level of protection with at least 95% filtration of non-oiled based particles. However, this mask comes without a valve.
This mask is also a respirator mask and can filter bacteria, viruses, and allergens. It offers an even higher level of protection than N95 masks. It is NIOSH certified to filter 99.97% of non-oil-based particles down to 0.3 microns. Being a valved mask, it stays cooler by 7.5°F, compared to a mask without a valve.
The 8247 R95 is a particulate respirator mask with carbon. The layer of carbon in the mask helps absorb odors and vapor. This mask is NIOSH certified to filter at least 95% of particles down to 0.3 microns. What makes this mask different from the others is that it can even filter oil-based particles.
What about cloth masks?
Cloth masks can easily be made at home to provide some level of protection from allergens, environmental contaminants, and COVID-19. The ability to make it at home from cotton cloth or a t-shirt can be useful if you do not have another mask available. They offer a basic level of protection to the wearer, but are not suitable for medical environments as protection against the coronavirus, due to the higher risk of exposure.
The Mu2 sport mask is designed specifically for outdoor activities. It has a neoprene covering that is comfortable to wear. This mask has a unique Micro Air Screen filtration material with pores about 18 microns in diameter. These pores are small enough to repel dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and viruses, but large enough to provide unrestricted airflow. It is a washable and reusable face mask.
The QMask contains the same neoprene covering as the Mu2 sport mask and is effective against dust and pollen. It is a reusable and washable mask and is comfortable to wear. It is perfect to use for indoor activities such as household chores and gardening, or can be used in the same manner as a homemade cloth mask when going out in public.
Effectiveness of different face masks for allergies
The effectiveness of different types of face masks for allergies varies, and the many masks available serve different purposes. The effectiveness of each face mask depends on how tightly it can fit the person’s face and the size of the pores in the face mask’s material. This is essentially the same for coronavirus masks.
Reusability of allergy face masks
It is important to consider the reusability of allergy face masks. Some masks can easily be washed and reused again like cloth masks and some dust masks. However, the material of some masks means they can only be used once, such as disposable surgical masks.
Reusing masks that may have been contaminated can have adverse effects, so make sure to wear them, wash them, and reuse them correctly. Wash them with warm soap or laundry detergent and water, and allow them to dry completely before wearing again.
If your mask is not reusable, here’s how to properly take it off and dispose of it:
- Remove the ear loops or untie the strings of the mask and gently lift it.
- Avoid touching the outside or inside of the mask.
- Discard the mask in a closed trash bin.
- Wash your hands immediately with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
Cost of allergy face masks
The price of allergy face masks depends on the type. Dust masks and cloth masks are quite inexpensive and are reusable. Surgical disposable face masks are also inexpensive but are only applicable for a single-use.
Particulate respirator masks such as the N95 and N100 masks are of high quality and are highly effective in protection against airborne contaminants. For this reason, these masks are quite expensive compared to the other types of masks available.
The brand of the mask also factors into the cost. Some companies, like 3M, go through testing to guarantee the effectiveness of their masks which are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).