The N95 mask is a type of respirator mask from the category of filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs). An N95 mask forms a seal around the nose and mouth which enables the wearer to have a snug facial fit. This type of mask filters airborne particles to a high standard.
What is an N95 mask?
The ‘N’ stands for the masks’ ability to filter ‘non-oil’ particles. For example, those which come from viruses, wildfire, volcanic eruptions and air pollution (PM 2.5). Meanwhile, ‘95’ indicates the filter performance. This means that during the testing process, the filter was able to capture 95% of the most penetrating particles in the air (down to 0.3 microns).
N95 respirators are regulated to comply with regulatory standards. They must meet certain physical properties and perform to a specific standard. The N95 mask meets the requirements as per the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to the standard NIOSH-42CFR84.
The N95 mask is often confused with the KN95 mask. N95 masks meet the US standard whilst KN95 meets the Chinese standard. They are very similar overall but are subject to different testing methods.
Who are N95 respirator masks intended for?
N95 masks are intended for health care workers as well as those who work in construction and industrial work.
During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that the supply of N95 respirator masks be reserved for healthcare workers. There is no need for N95 masks to be worn by the general public to protect against the spread of coronavirus and other particles.
The testing process: In-depth
Filtering facepiece respirators are subject to thorough testing in order to comply with regulatory standards. They are tested for filtration efficiency – assessing specifically how they filter particles and bacteria. Additionally, N95 masks are tested for fluid resistance biocompatibility and flammability.
- During the testing process for the N95 mask, NaCL (sodium chloride) is used as the test agent.
- The N95 mask reports a maximum inhalation resistance pressure drop of ≤ 343 Pa and a maximum exhalation resistance pressure drop of ≤ 254 Pa. The flow rate is 85L/min.
It meets an exhalation valve leakage requirement of ≤ 30mL/min.
Precautions and Care for an N95 Mask
N95 masks are categorized by the FDA as disposable, single-use items. A mask should be discarded upon the following signs:
- When the seal no longer grips the face effectively
- At any physical signs of damage or if the mask becomes wet
- In the event that the wearer experiences any breathing difficulty
- If the mask becomes contaminated with blood, bodily fluids or respiratory secretions from patients
After use, the mask should be wrapped in a plastic bag or equivalent before being discarded into the bin.
An N95 mask should never be shared with a colleague. Note that N95 masks are less effective on children or those with facial hair. These subjects should consider an alternative mask.
Those who experience a respiratory or cardiac condition are recommended to seek advice from a healthcare provider prior to using an N95 mask. They can exacerbate breathing difficulties. Some N95 feature exhalation valves to aid with breathing, however, this type of mask should not be worn under sterile conditions.