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Masks to prevent allergies and infections

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:26am
Several patients have asked me about using masks to prevent allergies. Masks are a good idea. However, I could find nothing in any medical textbook or journals to help me recommend a good mask. This blog represents my researched answer.

1. Masks can effectively reduce the amount of allergens, airborne particles, and gaseous pollutants that people inhale. Masks are filters worn over the mouth and nose.

2. Different types of masks are sold publicly. Which mask should I consider buying? This depends on what you want to filter and how well you want to have the air filtered. Some good reading is at the Center for Disease Control's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Heath (NIOSH) website
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/, then select "Filtering Face pieces" orhttp://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/. There are two parts to each mask's coding: the letter and the number. The letter refers to how resistant the mask will be to oil particles: N means none, R means somewhat, and P means strongly. The numbers mean what percentage of particles will be filtered: 95 means 95%, 99 means 99%, and 100 means 99.97%. The N95 are used by the CDC to prevent inhaling all bacteria, avian influenza, and recommended for personnel doing surgery. If you want to see a listing of disposable particulate respirators N95:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/n95list1.html%20.I. I did not find the 3M site to be helpful in learning about the different kinds of masks, although the site lists many different kinds of masks, all made by 3Mhttp://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Health/Safety/Products/Catalog?PC_7_. 3M makes so many kinds of consumer products, that the listing get to be encyclopedic. Naturally, the more you want everything filtered out of the air, the greater the cost of the mask. I recommend minimum of N95 rating on your masks. Note some masks are sold without any rating, hence with no guarantee of filtering ability. Do NOT buy them. Many ads for stores do not list the filtering ability. Caveat emptor - Let the buyer beware. To see what N95 masks look like, google images "N95."

3. Where can I buy masks? Masks can be purchased in some pharmacies, every hardware store, or on the Internet. After searching, this site had ahttp://www.allergybegone.com/facemasks1.htmlpretty good layout. I am not commenting on the prices. Some factors include: the reuse ability, number of masks, shipping costs, and degree of filtration.

4. Am I motivated to buy and use a qualified mask? I hope your answer is yes, and not because I own any stock in any of the manufacturers - I do not. Using a reusable N95, or higher rated, mask is simple, only mildly annoying, and very effective way to prevent symptoms.
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