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N95, N99, N100 – Which N-Range Mask Do You Need?

Owing to the recent coronavirus outbreak, people across the globe have turned to masks for protection and safety. This coronavirus has proven deadly in some cases, however, the chance of recovery is also high. Regardless, the best measure to fight the condition is prevention.

COVID-19, like all viruses, starts with an extremely small particle. It is too small to be caught by a mere cloth filter or non-medical face mask. As a result, people are turning towards N-rated respirators in an attempt to avoid becoming ill.

What are N-range respirators?

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respirator is a device that is worn over the mouth and nose to help keep out toxic or harmful substances. Respirators are excellent at keeping out remarkably small particles, including most viruses, which is why they have suddenly become extremely popular.

N-rated respirators are designed to keep out a certain percentage of tiny particles they come in contact with. In this article, we will go over three types of respirators and learn more about them. When it comes to choosing the best device against the coronavirus, we have to ask ourselves the following question: N95, N99, N100 – what is actually needed?

N-rated respirators bear the letter “N” for a reason: the “N” is short for “Not resistant to oil-based particles.” These respirators are popular because of how easily available they are (or were, before the pandemic) and because they can be used for a long time while providing protection from most respiratory hazards.

However, the respirators were not designed to combat all hazards; they will not guarantee you 100% safety from the coronavirus. Though they are still much better than the average face mask and can keep out most small particles, including viruses in general, social distancing and self-isolation are much more effective ways of combating the virus.

Nomenclature

This article addresses the following three respirator masks: N95, N99, and N100. Below is a brief description of each with respect to terminology:

The N95 mask

The N95 mask is designed to block out up to 95% of hazardous particles that come in contact with it. It is most commonly seen being used at construction sites and does a fantastic job at keeping non-oily particles at bay. Examples include ash, smoke, and carbon soot. The N95 mask does not guarantee that it will keep out all viruses. However, because it is designed to hinder the entrance of extremely small particles, there is a likely chance that it will also prevent the coronavirus from entering the nose and mouth area.

The N99 mask

Similar to the N95 mask, the N99, or N-99, mask can keep small particles out and away from the covered facial area. The N99 is a step up from the N95 mask in that it can keep out 99% of the particles it comes into contact with. This is a result of manufacturers using more dense materials to make this mask.

The N100 mask

Out of all three variants in the N-rated range, the N100 is classified as the most efficient at keeping out small particles (up to 99.97%). While this mask has the greatest efficiency at particle blocking, it is also the most difficult option when it comes to breathability.

Who should avoid N-range masks?

The same properties that make these masks so effective also make them difficult to breathe through. Therefore, people with general breathing difficulties should avoid wearing N-rated masks unless there is a severe need for it. For example, if they are in a dire situation, like being quarantined with a person who is sick with COVID-19. People with cardiac problems should check with a healthcare professional before wearing an N-range mask.

Who should actually be using these masks?

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The CDC has said that people should opt to wear a mask if they are in contact with an infected individual. This advice suggests that something is better than nothing. Hence everyone should try and keep their faces covered, regardless of whether they are able to use an N-rated respirator or not. 

Anyone who has obvious symptoms of the virus or has tested positive should also consider wearing a mask to prevent themselves from transferring the virus to other people. Anyone who is a suspected carrier must also cover their face with a reliable mask, like an N-rated respirator, to make sure they do not spread the infection through coughs or sneezes.

N-range masks are essential for healthcare workers because they are continuously exposed to the virus. They have direct contact with patients who are obviously suffering from COVID-19 and must maintain contact in order to treat them. While wearing a respirator like the N95 does not fully guarantee the prevention of viral transfer, it does lower than chances of getting it by acting as a barrier.

Sadly, N-range masks and other types of masks are extremely short on supply. Their demand is high, which is why they are selling out fast. Many places are unable to stock them anymore because of global shipments being stalled, and imports being hindered. There have also been reports of cases where non-essential workers have broken into hospital storerooms and medical shops to try and get their hands on masks reserved especially for healthcare workers.

Such practices bear no fruit and only serve to harm those who are fighting the virus on the frontline. Again, no mask can provide 100% safety, save for perhaps a wartime gas mask, and the best possible way to save yourself from the virus is by staying away from other people and avoiding non-essential contact.

N95, N99, N100 – What is actually needed?

When choosing a mask, certain things should be kept in mind. Firstly, an N100 mask gives better protection than an N99 mask. Both of these masks also work better than the N95 mask, in theory.

However, the differences in efficiency are not significant, particularly the 1% difference between the N99 and the N100. In general, an N95 mask should suffice. In fact, wearing a mask with a more significant-sounding number, like the N100, comes with a downside; it is harder to breathe in masks marked with higher numbers than through masks marked with lower numbers, like the N95.

Keeping this in mind is essential before deciding what mask to buy. If you, or the wearer, do not find it difficult to breathe through the N100, then that one is your best bet. If you cannot, or can only obtain an N95, you aren’t increasing your risk level by a huge margin.

The dilemma: N-range masks and oil

Despite the CDC, FDA, NHS/HSE, and other authorities recommending that people wear the N-range masks to protect themselves from the virus, it is essential to take a look at the letter “N” in the mask’s name.

As mentioned previously, the “N” in N95, N99, and N100 stands for “Not resistant to oil-based particles.” But why is this important? How can a single letter affect the mask’s protection level?

The answer is simple: N-range masks do not offer complete protection against oil-based particles. This includes oil droplets, lipid splatters, and the coronavirus. The coronavirus has a lipid-based capsule called the viral envelope. Not all viruses are lipid-based; the coronavirus, unluckily, is. This means that if the coronavirus falls upon an N-range respirator, the mask will not repel the virus.

There is no chemical constraint placed upon a lipid-based virus by the N-range masks. The only reason why healthcare authorities have recommended this mask is that it can keep small particles at bay, and viruses generally qualify as small particles.

These masks claim to prevent the entrance of all particles that are larger than 0.3 microns. Hence, they may provide a physical barrier to the coronavirus. However, there are always exceptions, and people wearing the N-range masks may fall ill. A better option would be the P-range mask, which is similar to the N-range except that it prevents oil-based particles from entering, too, unlike the N-range masks.

Where to buy N-range masks

You can find N-range masks online, but there is no guarantee concerning when delivery will go through. So, a better option is to check out your local pharmacy or hospital. However, do not try to raid these places or finish their stock. You would be putting the rest of the community, as well as its healthcare workers, at risk. And remember, carriers who are not wearing masks can still infect you! You want them to be able to purchase a mask, as well.

How to put on an N-range mask

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Before wearing the respirator, make sure there are no holes or defects in it. Then, use the elastic bands or ties to fasten it. Make sure the mask is securely tied up behind your ears or around the back of your head, depending on what your mask model suggests.

Use the tips of your fingers to adjust the mask into place. It should cover your mouth and nose, and all edges of the respirator should be in direct contact with your skin, hence blocking off any pathway for the virus or small particles to enter. The mask should be snug-fitting and may make it more difficult for you to breathe owing to the heavy filters.

Can you reuse N-range masks?

These masks are best for a single use and should be disposed of after using them once, if possible. Extra precautions must be taken for mask reuse and even then, it may affect the usefulness of the mask. N-range respirators should not be worn longer than eight hours in one go, though most people will take them off before then. If worn for too long, their filters may fill up, making it harder for the wearer to breathe through them. Any harmful microorganisms or viruses trapped inside the filters might also reproduce and create colonies, so it’s best to toss the mask away before they cause any harm.

Disposal

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The FDA recommends that all N-rated masks be disposed of carefully. Do not touch the mask’s filter when removing it. Instead, use the edges of the straps and remove the mask from there. Do not touch the inner part of the mask, either, especially with bare hands. Throw it away in a bin that’s not regularly used by your household members. Placing it inside a plastic bag before throwing the mask away can also help.

Precautions

Firstly, do not share your N-range mask with anyone. Sharing it can spread contaminants like viruses and bacteria to other users, which may have harmful effects. 

Secondly, do not touch your mask unnecessarily, especially with your hands. Again, this raises the risk of contamination, especially if there are viruses and bacteria trapped on your mask’s surface. We cannot detect these particles with the naked human eye, but the chances are that they are there, so keep your hands away. People with a lot of facial hair cannot wear the mask, as the hair will prevent the mask from providing full protection.

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