Many countries in Europe have made wearing face masks compulsory in public places where it is not possible to keep 1.5-metre distance between one person and the other, such as public transport. The introduction of compulsory measures on face coverings has obvious benefits for healthcare workers. But now that everyone has to comply with these measures, there are many questions in the air. What exactly are the standards that must be met? Do we need to buy face masks or make them ourselves? When should or shouldn’t we wear a face mask? What do the codes and numbers on the packaging mean? We’re happy to provide you with information to help you make an informed decision.
What type of face masks are there?
In general, there are three types of face masks: FFP masks, medical face masks and commercial masks.
- FFP masks offer the highest degree of protection and are therefore intended and suitable for use by healthcare workers. They protect the wearer from exposure to dust and virus particles by filtering the air that is inhaled. FFP respirators are divided into three types according to their filtering capacities: FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3. FFP3 offers the highest level of protection.
- Medical face masks, also known as surgical masks, do not filter the air we breathe like FFP masks but prevent contamination of the environment. In other words, medical face masks help in the fight against coronavirus by protecting the people around you. Like FFP masks, medical masks are certified by the government and thus suitable for use in healthcare settings. They are divided into three categories: type I (filtration efficiency ≥ 95%), type II (filtration efficiency ≥ 98%) and type IIR (filtration efficiency ≥98% and splash resistant).
- Commercial masks are not standardised and are not intended for use by healthcare professionals. Commercial masks include various forms of face covers made of paper, cloth or other textiles, and are suitable for use in construction or industrial applications. They can filter dust particles but are not effective for protecting the wearer from virus infection due to their composition.
Can I make a face mask myself?
Absolutely. In some countries, self-made face masks are recommended as an alternative to medical masks in the fight against coronavirus. For example, for people who are struggling to buy masks for financial reasons or where medical masks are short in supply. You can find numerous instructions online, also on government websites, for making face masks at home. Click here for an instruction.
It is important to remember that like surgical masks, self-made face masks only offer protection for the people around you. DIY masks do not filter out small particles in the air.
What should I consider when buying a face mask?
Now that face masks have been made compulsory in most countries, it is important to know what to look out for when shopping for them. In general, there are three types of face masks available. There is also the option of making a face mask yourself.
When deciding what type of face mask to use, you should choose based on the following factors.
- Availability: in many countries, FFP masks are only advised for healthcare workers. For this reason, citizens are asked to wear homemade face coverings or buy medical masks.
- Efficacy: it is important to be aware that most masks only protect the people around you. In other words, a face mask does not stop you from being infected; it stops you from infecting other people. Keep this in mind when you are in contact with people without face masks.
- Use: a surgical mask is a disposable medical device and should not be worn for more than three hours. After three hours, the mask should be disposed of and replaced with a new one. DIY face masks can be cleaned and sanitised effectively by washing them at hot temperatures after each use. This means that if you want to use a self-made mask, you need to make a number of them so you can wear a fresh one each time you go out.
- Design: to comply with coronavirus measures, the mask should completely cover both the nose and mouth, fitting snugly against the sides of the face. Face masks that only cover the mouth are forbidden.
How do I wear a face mask properly?
Face masks vary by quality and levels of protection. However, their effectiveness depends on how you use them. Improper use of face masks can jeopardise their protective effect and even increase your risk of infection.
The general guidelines on the use of face masks are:
- Non-medical (i.e. commercial or self-made) masks should be worn over the mouth and nose. When the mask does not cover your nose, or is briefly pulled down, you are no longer protected. They should not be removed to talk to someone or do other things that would require touching the mask (e.g. drinking or eating).
- Face masks should be replaced with a fresh one regularly. According to experts, they should not be used for more than three consecutive hours. Disposable face masks should not be reused at all. Not even after airing, rinsing or washing. Self-made cloth face masks should be washed at a minimum of 60 degrees. If you are travelling, you need to wear a fresh one on your return trip. This means you need to carry several face masks with you.
- Avoid touching the mask while wearing it or after you’ve taken it off. Put on the face mask by looping the straps around your ears. Touching the mask itself increases the likelihood of contamination.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before putting on a face mask and after you’ve put it on. Also wash your hands before removing the face mask.
- Clean face masks should be kept separate from used face masks. Surgical masks should be stored separately in plastic bags and disposed of immediately after use. If you cannot dispose of your mask immediately, at least it’s in a plastic bag and you can throw it away safely at home.
- Remember that face masks only offer partial protection. FFP masks fit snugly around the nose mouth and chin and filter out the tiniest airborne particles. Surgical masks and self-made face masks do not filter these particles and don’t provide complete protection from coronavirus due to the loose-fit nature of the masks.
Does wearing a face mask offer extra protection?
Wearing face masks is an additional measure to slow down and contain the spread of coronavirus. Most face coverings, except for FFP masks, only protect the people around you. They don’t protect the wearer from being infected. Face masks do not offer complete protection and there are also health risks associated with the use of face masks if the sanitation guidelines are not observed correctly. Therefore, it is vital that other preventative measures, such as proper hand hygiene, social distancing and staying home when sick, continue to be respected.
Where can I buy a face mask?
Some countries distribute free face masks to citizens. There are also many pharmacies and shops, both online and physical, that sell them. Most surgical masks are available in packs of 50.
Dokteronline.com is a platform for connecting patients with doctors and pharmacies, enabling targeted treatment and care. Dokteronline.com believes in responsible self-management of treatable health conditions.
This article is written to provide general information and aims to guide readers in their choice of face mask. Dokteronline.com does not in any way advise readers on coronavirus measures or compliance. The advice of the relevant national authorities should be followed in all cases.
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