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Which mask is best to fight the health impact of ‘severe’ pollution level?

The air quality in the National Capital Region has reached hazardous levels with data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) showing the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the ‘severe’ category. As we know, air pollution is linked to a number of health risks, including cancer, premature death and heart problems. In an earlier interaction with indianexpress.com, Dr M S Kanwar, Senior Consultant, Department of Pulmonology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi said, “The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the greatest health risk as they can get deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.”

As such, he advised internalising mask-wearing as a routine. But, which mask is best suited to fight air pollution?

Air pollution continues to remain in ‘severe’ category (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

According to experts, FFP1 masks, N95 masks, and cartridges are known to be the most effective. “The FFP1 masks, or the N95 masks, are known to be the most effective clinically, and can effectively limit the inhalation of pollutants suspended in the air. In Delhi NCR, pollution levels have become horrifyingly high, leaving citizens gasping for air,” Dr Rajkumar, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, said.

He said that for those who regularly come into contact with dangerous pollution, 95 per cent filtration rate FFP1 masks may be a wise investment. “If not, wearing an N95 mask might provide decent protection,” Dr Rajkumar added.

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Agreeing, Dr Sudharshan K S, Consultant Pulmonologist, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bangalore said, “N95 and cartridge masks can be used to protect from air pollution.” He went on to explain how cloth, N95 and cartridge masks function. “Cloth mask is a breathable cloth covering the nose and mouth, it protects against any particulate and solid matter and it’s washable and reusable,” he said. However, cloth masks do not play a significant role in preventing adverse health effects due to air pollution.

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A standard N95 mask, on the other hand, filters 95 per cent of harmful PM2.5 matter and other pollutants, the expert said, adding that N95 masks are for single use as “repeated usage after sterilisation decreases the efficacy of the mask”.

Dr Sudharshan added that “cartridges are more efficient filters which are used in industrial areas and firefighters to protect from harmful gases. They are reusable”.

Dr Ravindra Mehta, Senior Pulmonologist, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore, also said that N95 masks are most effective as they filter out the PM2.5 particular matter. “The issue with cloth and surgical masks is that they may reduce the exposure but because of small particulate size and lack of tight fit, they don’t give enough protection,” he said.

Wear masks regularly against air pollution (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

However, masks do not provide a 100 per cent filter against air pollution, Dr Rajkumar said. “All masks serve as a shield to keep out particulates. But, the efficiency of each is different from the other. The maintenance of the mask is crucial in preventing airborne particles like N95 from entering your body, even though basic masks are effective at filtering droplets. You can also choose the slightly better N99 masks. Essentially, this means that this mask will block 99.9 per cent of 2.5-micron particulate particles,” he explained.

Some tips to keep in mind

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“Purchasing multiple masks and using them alternately is advised if you use a non-disposable mask outside every day,” Dr Rajkumar said, sharing some essential tips you must keep in mind.

*Cover your mouth and nose when wearing a mask.*When not in use, avoid wearing your mask on your chin.*Take care to routinely wash and air-dry your mask.*When wearing a mask, refrain from regularly touching it.*Your mask should be kept in an airtight container or at a specific location.*Never take off your mask before washing your hands.

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