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Are Air Pollution Masks The Same as Medical Masks or Fabric Ones?

Thanks to coronavirus, people have begun wearing masks regularly during everyday situations. However, in some parts of the world, masks were common long before the pandemic.

While face masks are believed to hinder the spread of the coronavirus and can help stop infected people from transmitting their disease to others, they have long been in use for other purposes, too. One of the most common uses is wearing masks to combat air pollution.

The trend of wearing an air pollution mask began in China, where air toxicity levels reached alarming heights. Soon, it was deemed unsafe for citizens to walk around their cities without a mask on. As a result, the entire population of the areas which were most hit by the toxic smog, like Beijing, began to don anti-pollution masks in an attempt to combat the harmful air. 

Breathing in this air could cause severe, long-lasting damage to the respiratory system and the best way to keep the pollutants at bay was by covering your mouth and nose. This trend has continued into the coronavirus pandemic, where one of the best ways to dodge the risk of infection is by ensuring that you and everyone around you are wearing a face mask. This is also because, like toxic air, the coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, and the most likely way for it to enter your body is through the mouth or nose.

Why wear a face mask?

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Many large healthcare bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have instructed people to start covering their faces. Wearing a mask makes it less likely for an infected person to spread the virus through a cough or sneeze. It also lowers the risk of the virus entering a person’s respiratory system through the mouth and nose when wearing a mask.
The WHO and CDC have instructed that people wear any kind of face covering to shield themselves and others from the virus; this includes all sorts of masks, be it cloth maskssurgical masks, or N95 respirators.

What is an air pollution mask?

An air pollution mask, or anti-pollution mask, is a unique face covering worn over the mouth and nose. It can help keep air pollutants at bay, including dust, pollen, ash, and harmful chemicals that are found in the air in some industrial cities. Air pollution masks can block a majority of casual pollutants, making the inhaled air less toxic.

Why people are using anti-pollution masks

Air pollution masks can help keep out larger pollutants, like dust, volcanic ash, and pollen. They can also keep out harmful human-made chemicals found in the air. People are now using these masks to shield themselves from the virus and to keep themselves from spreading the virus to others by effectively blocking the mouth and nose pathways.

Anti-pollution masks vs. coronavirus

Anti-pollution masks might just be able to help keep the coronavirus at bay. However, what type of mask you are using matters a lot.

One of the best anti-pollution mask options is the N95 mask. It is mostly seen at construction sites where there is plenty of pollution in the air. However, regular citizens have been seen wearing it in the past, too. However, now there is a sharp dip in respiratory supplies, so fewer people are seen wearing the N95 mask only for the sake of pollution.

Respirators

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If you are using an anti-pollution respirator like the N95, then chances of you keeping the virus out are higher than average. Virus particles can still enter through the N95, but the likelihood of that is much lower than with other masks.

If you are using a simple cloth mask, then the chances of you contracting the coronavirus if exposed to it are higher than with other more sophisticated masks. However, if you fear that you are a carrier of the virus and can transmit it to others through a cough or sneeze, it’s better to wear any kind of covering. Even a dense cloth mesh can help keep the mucus particles from your cough or sneeze from exiting the mouth or nose area, keeping the viral particles trapped inside of the mucus away from the other people around you.

After the N95 and other respirators, come another class of air pollution masks. These are generally not medical-grade but have been circulating the market for a while now.

Cycling masks

One common type of mask is the cyclist’s mask, which can protect from dust and some pollutants. This mask has no gaps at the edges and is always in direct contact with the face, hence keeping out pollutants. Cyclists’ (or cycling) masks can filter out the most particulate matter but are not effective against the coronavirus unless they contain multiple layers and filters. Even then, they do not offer 100% protection. Still, they are more likely to work against viruses than a simple cloth mask.

Carbon filter masks

Another type of mask is the carbon filter mask; these masks are made from nylon or plain cloth, which is then fitted with a replicable activated carbon filter. The carbon filter is made from extremely tiny carbon particles which have an astoundingly large surface area. They can trap most pollutants and provide some degree of protection against the coronavirus, but less so than a traditional respirator.

In conclusion, yes, you can use anti-pollution masks to combat the coronavirus, but most of them will give you minimal protection. Still, it is much better to go out with a multi-layered pollution mask than to wear nothing at all. There is still some likelihood, albeit small, that the mask will trap the coronavirus, primarily if the virus is being carried in their air using an organic or inorganic vector, like pollen or ash.

N95 respirator masks also count as pollution masks; they are one of the best air pollution mask options one can use because of their high, medical-grade standard and snug fit. These offer protection against viruses and any other particles that are larger than 0.3 microns.

How to identify a good air pollution mask

If you’re wondering how to spot an air pollution mask worth using, here’s how:

Look for masks, especially respirators, made by reputable companies; 3M is the largest distributor of respirator masks, and every product of theirs is checked before it is sent out to the market. You’re very unlikely to find a faulty 3M product, meaning that your mask should always be in top shape and do its job efficiently.

If you are not buying a respirator, try and look for other reliable mask sellers in your area. If you are purchasing a cloth-based mask, like a cyclist’s mask or carbon filter mask, make sure the material is comfortable and hypoallergenic. Also, make sure that the mask you buy offers a snug fit and won’t leave any gaping holes between your facial skin and the edge of the mask. Such openings destroy the very purpose of wearing a face mask.

Where to buy the best pollution mask

You can purchase an air pollution mask online from a reliable retailer, or from your nearest grocery store or pharmacy. Buying masks online can be risky as you may be sent ineffective, fake goods so make sure to check the product descriptions carefully before making a purchase or visit a well-reputed store in person.

Lack of supplies

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Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a severe lack of essential supplies around the globe. This includes face masks, especially surgical masks and N95 respirators.

Some people have fallen into a state of panic, especially in parts of the world like the United States. Grocery store aisles were wiped clean as people bought everything they could afford without realizing that others may need to make purchases for their families too.

Falling into a state of panic can be detrimental to society as a whole. By impulsively buying everything in stock, these buyers left hundreds of people in their community with nothing. This includes safety items, like hand sanitizers, soap, disinfectant, and face masks – all of which are essential in the midst of a pandemic.

Such behavior also led to those who need the masks the most, not having any. This category of people includes doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, grocery-store attendees, police officers, and all those who qualified as essential workers. Many frontline workers were and still are exposed to the virus, especially those working in hospitals. They need face masks more than the average citizen does, otherwise they may fall ill, or worse, unknowingly transmit the virus to previously uninfected patients.

The main reason why people are turning towards air pollution masks as an alternative is because there are few surgical masks or N95 respirators available. We should let essential workers have these advanced masks first, and instead, turn to more basic masks for ourselves like air pollution masks (not including the N95 respirator).

Who should use air pollution masks?

As far as anti-pollution respiratory masks go, these should be reserved for those who are in contact with coronavirus patients, like essential workers or people who are isolated at home with an infected individual. This is because they are the most effective masks and are short in supply. Essential workers and those in contact with the virus need them more than regular citizens, so we should opt for an alternative air pollution mask to protect us from toxic air and viruses.

As for cyclists’ masks and carbon filter masks, these can be bought by anyone and can be worn as suitable alternatives to respirators. They do a great job of keeping pollutants away as well as reducing the chance of the virus from entering your mouth or nose.

Alternatives to air pollution masks

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Some alternatives to air pollution masks include bandanas, t-shirt coverings made from scrap material, cloth masks, N95 respirators, and surgical masks. However, the latter two should be reserved for essential workers who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus than any of us. They should also be worn by those who are in contact with an infected person, like a relative or roommate.

Other precautions

Other precautions to fight the coronavirus include washing your hands with soap regularly and using hand sanitizer when hand washing is not an option. Soap and water are much better than sanitizer alone, though, because it can effectively break down the lipid viral envelope (the coronavirus’ fatty coating). 

We should also practice social distancing and try to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary. By keeping these precautions in mind, we can reduce the number of coronavirus cases over time.

In conclusion, yes, you may use anti-pollution masks to fight the coronavirus. However, these are not effective if used incorrectly. The mask or respirator must be worn so that it covers the mouth and nose, and there are no gaping holes left between the facial skin and edges of the mask. Also, respirators should only be used once and not shared with other people. They cannot be washed and must be disposed of after a maximum of eight hours of use. 

Those using cyclists’ masks and activated carbon masks should regularly wash their mask’s cloth frame or base and not share it with other people. This will prevent the spreading of infection from one person to another.

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