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Respirators are more effective than surgical masks for protection against infection – this is how they work and who should wear them





man wearing a blue hat: Respirators, such as N95 face masks, are needed to protect healthcare workers from disease.  Samara Hayes / Getty images


© Samara Hayes / Getty images
Respirators, such as N95 face masks, are needed to protect healthcare workers from disease. Samara Hayes / Getty images

  • Respirators work to protect health and emergency workers from inhaling chemicals or infectious particles.
  • Respirators, such as N95 face masks, are more effective than surgical masks at preventing the spread of the disease ̵
    1; and they should be used by healthcare professionals who treat sick patients.
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Respirators, better known as face masks, are designed to keep health and emergency personnel safe from chemicals and infectious particles.

Surgical masks can be useful if you are ill, as they prevent the spread of the user’s germs to other people. If you are a healthcare professional and want to protect yourself from getting sick or inhaling other dangerous particles, a respirator will be more effective.

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of respirators, how they work, and who might need one.

How respirators work

A respirator is a device that covers your nose and mouth and protects you from inhaling dangerous airborne substances, such as chemicals or infectious particles.

There are different types of respirators for different scenarios, including:

  • Emergency respiratorswhich are intended for emergencies only, such as fire or chemical vapors. These respirators are designed to protect you while moving in a safe place and are usually designed for short-term use for up to an hour.
  • Gas masks, which clean the chemical gases from the air while you breathe. Gas mask cartridges filter out certain biological or chemical substances, but there is no cartridge to protect you from all substances, so gas masks are only effective if you use the right cartridge for the danger you face.
  • Powerful Respiratory Air Purifiers (PAPR) use the same filters as the gas masks, but facilitate breathing by using a fan to blow air through the filter.
  • Particulate respirators to protect you from particles but not from chemicals, gases or vapors. For example, healthcare professionals use N95 masks, which clean the air while you breathe and protect you from infectious particles, such as the coronavirus.

Particulate respirators protect healthcare professionals

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Respirators, such as the common N95 face masks, help protect healthcare professionals from inhaling infectious particles while treating patients who may be contagious. They were especially important during the outbreak of coronavirus.

“N95 masks help filter coronavirus particles so that healthcare professionals do not inhale them,” said Dr. Parshaun Lahiji, an emergency physician and critical care specialist and internist at Providence St. John’s Health Center.

In addition to the shortage of medical equipment such as ventilators, many hospitals in the country are also experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as these N95 masks, which endanger the health and safety of healthcare workers.

In New York, some doctors reuse N95 respirators by storing them in a bag and putting them back in later. Usually these masks are designed for single use and doctors use a new one for each interaction with the patient.

Respirators are needed to protect healthcare professionals, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend the use of respirators or N95 masks for the general public. Instead, the CDC recommends limiting exposure by staying home as much as possible, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your face.

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