FAQ: Use of masks and availability of masks

1.         Who should use a N95 mask? When?

N95 masks are not needed for short exposure, like commuting from home to school or work, travel from bus-stop to shopping mall. N95 masks are also not needed in an indoor environment.

A healthy person who has to be outdoors for several hours when the air quality is in the hazardous range (PSI >300) may reduce exposure by wearing a N95 mask.

People with chronic lung or heart disease, elderly, and pregnant women should avoid or minimize outdoor activity when the air quality is very unhealthy (PSI > 200).  If they have to be outdoors for several hours , they may reduce exposure by wearing a N95 mask.

You should take a break from using a N95 mask if you feel uncomfortable. Elderly, pregnant women and people with severe lung or heart problems who have difficulty breathing at rest or on exertion should consult their doctor as to whether they should use the N95 mask.

Women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy may already have reduced lung volumes or breathing issues. They should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable.

2.         What about children? Children's N95 masks are not available.

N95 masks are not certified for use in children. The key precaution is that children should minimize prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion when the air quality is unhealthy (PSI > 100), and avoid outdoor activity when air quality is in the hazardous range (PSI > 300).

The N95 masks that are currently available have not been designed by the manufacturer for use in children.  To be effective, N95 masks need to maintain a well-fitted seal at all times, which may be difficult to achieve in young children. In addition, young children may find it uncomfortable to wear a tight-fitting mask and will very likely adjust the mask that is worn, reducing the effectiveness of the mask. 

Although certain types of N95 masks are being offered for sale for young children, their claims of effectiveness have not been verified by the relevant authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) or Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA). 

While older children (e.g. upper secondary school and above) may be able to fit the smaller sized N95 masks for adults, please note that the mask manufacturers do not certify effectiveness of the mask for this group.  (Based on height and weight data of Singaporean children, an average upper secondary child is similar in size to a small-sized adult.)  Older children with chronic heart and lung disease should seek advice from a paediatric specialist before using N95 masks.

3.         Is the N95 mask an adequate protection against haze/volcanic ash? Does it protect against  PM2.5?

N95 masks work only if there is a good fit with the face of the wearer. This way, most of the air that the wearer breathes in has to go through the filter and not through the gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face. Haze/Volcanic ash particles can contain fine particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5), and studies have shown that N95 masks do provide good protection against particle pollutants as they are at least 95% efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 – 0.3 microns.

4.       What are the effects of wearing a N95 mask?

The use of N95 masks increases effort in breathing.  For some people, the use of N95 mask may cause discomfort in breathing, tiredness or headache. This may be due to the mask causing increased resistance to breathing, and a reduction in the volume of air breathed. For most people this is not serious.

However, some elderly people, people with lung or heart conditions, and women in the later stages of pregnancy may already have reduced lung volumes or breathing issues.

You should take a break from using a N95 mask if you feel uncomfortable. Elderly, pregnant women and people with severe lung or heart problems who have difficulty breathing at rest or on exertion should consult their doctor as to whether they should use the N95 mask.

Women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy may already have reduced lung volumes or breathing issues. They should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable.

5.      How do I get a mask?                                                                                    

Masks are available at major pharmacies and supermarkets such as Unity, Watsons, Guardian, Cold Storage and NTUC Fairprice. The national stockpile of N95 masks may be released to the major pharmacies and supermarkets if more are needed.

Employers of workers who are required to work outdoors for prolonged period are encouraged to maintain a seven-day stock for immediate response. Procurement of additional masks can be made through the major pharmacies and supermarkets.

6.       Are there different types of N95 masks in the market?

There are different brands of N95 masks in the market which have the same functionality. They come in different colours, shapes and sizes. Please see also Annex A.

7.       What are EN-149: 2001 masks?  Are they equivalent to the N95 masks? 

EN-149 is one of the European Standard for masks while N95 masks are certified by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Both types of masks are designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours.

The EN-149 masks are classified in three classes depending on the ability to separate air-borne particles:

Class

Separation ability at  95 L/min airflow

FFP1

Filter separates 80% of airborne particles

FFP2

Filter separates 94% of airborne particles

FFP3

Filter separates 99% of airborne particles

 FFP2 masks that meet the EN-149 standard are the closest to N95 masks in the ability to filter particles.

8.       How would members of public know if the N95 or other types of masks meet safety and quality standards? 

A NIOSH-approved mask is certified by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to have 95% filter efficiency. A NIOSH-approved respirator has the following information printed on its packaging:

o   NIOSH

o   the type of approval (e.g. N95)

o   the manufacturer’s name

A list of NIOSH certified N95 masks is available on NIOSH’s website: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/n95list1.html. Please also see Annex B for some examples.

EN149 is the European Standard for respiratory mask designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours.  Masks are classified in three classes depending on the ability to separate air-borne particles according to the FFP (Filtering Face Pieces). An European standard certified mask will have the following text printed on it:

o   the CE mark

o   EN 149:2001; the classification of the mask (e.g. FFP2)

o   the manufacturer’s name.

9.       How does a consumer choose which mask to purchase?

Both the NIOSH-certified N95 masks or the EN-149 masks are designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours. Consumers should perform a fit check to ensure a good fit.

10.       How do I learn to fit my N95 mask?

For best effect, N95 masks need to be fitted properly for each user. To check for proper fit, please check that the available mask is appropriately sized and covers the nose and mouth comfortably without leak.

See Annex C for a step by step guide on how to wear N95 masks properly. 

The use of N95 masks to filter out pollutants in the air is not identical to the use of N95 masks for infection control in a healthcare institution during a disease pandemic situation.  For use during a haze/volcanic ash incident, even if the mask is not perfectly fitted, it can still be useful in filtering out pollutants for those who need to wear it.

11.       How do I wear a mask?

See Annex C for a step by step guide on how to wear N95 masks properly. 

12.       Can I reuse my N95 mask?

You can reuse your N95 mask. It should be changed when it gets soiled or distorted in shape. It should not be shared.

13.       Are surgical masks useful?

Normal surgical masks can protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from irritants in the air but are not effective in filtering fine particles.

Individuals with acute respiratory infections may wish to wear a surgical mask to prevent spread of infection.

Individuals may feel more comfortable having a surgical mask for short periods of time for unavoidable outdoor exposure e.g. commuting from home to MRT station, and waiting for public transportation. 

14.       How will the haze impact patients in nursing homes and subsidised wards with natural ventilation?

These patients are indoors and sedentary. The healthcare institutions, such as hospitals and nursing homes, will monitor patients closely, and ensure ample circulation of clean air indoors.

15.       Where can I get more information on haze?

 Please refer to the following websites:

  • http://www.nea.gov.sg/psi/
  • http://www.mom.gov.sg/haze/Pages/haze.aspx
  • http://www.moh.gov.sg/haze

 

ANNEX A

EXAMPLES OF N95 MASKS

 

ANNEX B

EXAMPLES OF NIOSH-APPROVED MASKS

 

 

ANNEX C

HOW TO WEAR A MASK

 

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