A medical mask (also a surgical mask) is a medical product that covers the mouth and nose of the carrier using a filter that protects against inhalation of liquid aerosols (the degree of protection, i.e. the size of the filtered particles depends on the quality of the filter), but does not protect against solid aerosols.
It should also be borne in mind that the medical mask leaves the conjunctiva (eyes) of the carrier unprotected from dangerous aerosols, so the mask is primarily designed to protect people surrounding the mask carrier. The difference between a medical mask and a respirator is the impossibility of a medical mask, as opposed to a respirator, to block fine particles of solid aerosols (the particle size of those filtered by the respirator may differ depending on the model). And also in the absence of a valve that facilitates exhalation and loose fit in the shape of the face.
The modern mask, as a rule, consists of a filtering layer, which is located between two outer layers (three-layer masks), as well as a flexible aluminum insert that ensures the fit of the mask in the shape of the nose. The mask is fixed on the face due to elastic ear loops or ties.
A close analogue in degree of filtration to a medical mask are homemade fabric masks of four layers of tissue. Conventional medical masks are made using synthetic materials that are easily damaged by temperature or detergents, so have a special order of UV sterilization and moderate heating.
The medical mask is a medical product of short-term contact, the duration of wearing the mask should, as a rule, be no more than 2 hours, and if it is impossible to replace no more than 4 hours, since with a longer period of use, as well as non-compliance with the mask removal technique, the risks of self-contamination significantly increase for the user (self-contamination), due to the fact that the mask will be heavily contaminated with microorganisms delayed by the mask released by exhalation from the mouth and respiratory tract, as well as from the skin. In cases where the medical mask is wet, contaminated or damaged, it should be replaced immediately. The moisture sorption of the mask results in increased resistance to the flow of air passing through the mask, as a result of which the leakage of air along the edges of the mask increases, which leads to a significant decrease in the efficiency of bacterial filtration of the mask.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals are curious about the proper use of medical masks. WHO released updated Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19 on 5 June 2020. Watch this video to learn more about which individuals should consider wearing a medical mask and how to properly put on, take off and dispose of the mask.
When using medical masks, the following potential harms and risks should be assessed:
self-contamination due to manipulation of the mask with contaminated hands;
potential self-contamination, which may occur if the medical mask is not replaced within the prescribed time frame or due to improper condition;
possible development of facial skin lesions, irritating dermatitis, or acne exacerbation with frequent use for several hours;
the impossibility or difficulty of using masks by specific vulnerable groups of the population (state of health, mental disorders and developmental disorders, age, etc.);
the problem of wearing in hot and humid conditions;
development of hypercapnia.
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