FAQ: Use of masks and availability of masks

1.        Do I need to wear a N95 mask?

- 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.

2.         What about vulnerable groups of people? Should they wear masks to protect themselves?

- The best form of protection for people with chronic lung or heart disease, elderly, and pregnant women is to avoid or minimize outdoor activity when the air quality is 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.

3.       Is the N95 mask an adequate protection against haze? 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 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.

- 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 Fairprice. In addition, MOH maintains a stockpile of N95 masks that 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 also refer to 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.

- The HPB website has a step by step guide on how to wear N95 masks properly.  See http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB051227

- 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 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?

- To learn how to put on a mask properly, the HPB has an info graphic on how to wear a mask on their website http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB051227. Please see also Annex C.

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 are not effective in filtering fine particles (i.e. tiny particles that are 2.5 microns or less in width), although they can reduce the discomfort cause by haze by providing a barrier between the wearer’s nose and mouth, and larger irritant particles in the air.

14.       Are surgical masks the same as N95 masks?

- Surgical masks and N95 masks are different and were made for different purposes. Surgical masks were designed to protect the surrounding environment from the user’s own spit or mucous. Healthcare professionals use them (e.g. in an operating theatre) to prevent their own germs from infecting the patient.

- N95 masks were designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles. Studies have shown that they are at least 95% efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 – 0.3 microns, assuming good fit on the wearer’s face. 

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

- The healthcare institutions will institute specific measures to manage particulate matter (PM) levels in indoor spaces, taking reference from the NEA-Environmental Health Institute’s guidelines on indoor air quality. The healthcare institutions will also monitor patients closely, and ensure ample circulation of clean air indoors.

16.       Where can I get more information on haze?

- Please refer to the following websites:

 

ANNEX A

EXAMPLES OF N95 MASKS

 

ANNEX B

EXAMPLES OF NIOSH-APPROVED MASKS

 

 

ANNEX C

HOW TO WEAR A MASK

 

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