Are anti-smoke masks the same as the ones being used for protection against the coronavirus? First, you should understand how they work against smoke. Smoke inhalation injury from the toxic byproduct of fire combustion accounts for almost 80% of fire-related deaths in the United States. Mostly wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, causing dry cough and breathing difficulties. Wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous for people who have asthma or other lung-related diseases.
What is bush/wildfire smoke?
Wildfire smoke is a mix of different gases and particles that result from burning trees and other plant materials. If wildfires reach man-made structures or items, it can cause the release of many more chemicals. Usually, mixtures of harmful substances like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide gases along with water vapors, ash, and dust particles make up bushfire smoke.
Different-sized particles are present in the smoke. Very large particles cannot be inhaled; they just cause nose and eye irritation. However, small particles and gases can be inhaled and cause health issues.
How can bushfire smoke affect health?
Negative health effects of bushfire smoke depend upon different factors like age, duration of exposure, or any pre-existing medical conditions. Pre-existing respiratory diseases can be especially aggravated if smoke is inhaled. Moreover, smoke may trigger cardiac events in patients with a history of heart attacks.
Will a dust mask or face mask protect me?
For a mask to protect against fire smoke, it must be able to filter out fine particles of around 0.3 – 0.1 microns, and the mask should also perfectly seal around the face. Commonly-used masks like dust masks, paper masks, comfort masks, and even standard surgical masks cannot be used as anti-smoke masks as they are designed to capture large particles and are loosely fitted.
In this way, masks for smoke and masks for coronavirus are similar. Although cloth masks and even loose-fitting surgical masks may be useful for the general public, a mask that completely seals around the face is necessary for medical personnel who are working directly with COVID-19 patients.
Can an anti-smoke mask provide protection against coronavirus?
Wearing a special anti-smoke mask called an air-purifying respirator (APR) can provide efficient protection against coronavirus. So, yes, anti-smoke masks can protect against coronavirus, but due to the current shortage of these masks, they are only recommended for healthcare professionals who are dealing with confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus.
Best masks for smoke
Wearing an air-purifying respirator (APR) can provide efficient protection against both wildfire smoke and COVID-19. These masks are NIOSH-certified and come in three series.
- N – not resistant to oil
- R – somewhat resistant to oil
- P – oil-proof
Each series is subclassified on the basis of a filtering efficiency of 95, 99, and nearly 100%. These masks are able to filter out very fine particles, both from smoke and viruses, and protect the wearer’s lungs.
In terms of smoke, N-series masks work best for bushfires. They can protect from both solid and aerosol particles that don’t contain oil. These types of particles are commonly present in wildfire smoke. The most popular N-series masks are the N95 and N99.
Masks for smoke should have an exhalation valve, as this decreases the breathing resistance, heat, and moisture build-up as you breathe.
However, for use as protection against the coronavirus, an exhalation valve is less desirable. Although it still makes breathing more comfortable, it may allow infected particles exhaled by the wearer to escape, potentially infecting surrounding individuals. This is why those who wear a mask with an exhalation valve for COVID-19 should be especially diligent about social distancing and hand washing.
Limitations of using air-purifying respirators as face masks
- They are unable to filter out gases like carbon monoxide.
- They don’t provide oxygen, so it can cause trouble for the wearer working in a superheated environment, for example, firefighters.
- It requires training for proper fitting. If not properly fitted, these masks cannot provide full protection. (The wearer should ideally be clean-shaven.)
Full-face respirators should be worn to protect both the eyes and respiratory system from smoke and viral particles (since those particles can both irritate the eyes and infect through them), but the half-face respirator is more common.
Best smoke masks available
There are many smoke masks available from reputable brands that will provide adequate protection against both wildfire smoke and COVID-19. These two will get you started:
The 3M 8511 respirator is the best mask for smoke. It is an N95 respirator mask certified by NIOSH. It has a nose clip that helps form a perfect seal around the face. It is soft, light in weight, and comfortable to wear. It has cool flow breathing valves, which make it a better choice for protection against smoke than viruses, if the wearer is infected and does not wish to spread the virus.
This mask is made up of silicone and other materials that are able to withstand heat. It has a comfortable design and is easy to put on. It’s efficient filter cartridges not only filter solid particles in the air but are also able to block toxic fumes. This mask also comes with a cool flow exhaust valve.
How to use the smoke mask
- For proper fitting, the wearer should be clean-shaven.
- Masks should be disposed of or removed when they become clogged or the baseline breathability will be compromised.
- If you feel dizzy or nauseated when wearing the mask, remove it immediately, and get medical advice.
- If you have lung disease or cardiac issues, only use a smoke mask after consulting with your doctor.