Janelle Zimmerman - Registered Nurse, Health Coach, Healthcare Writer
Regardless which masking option you choose(see Mask Selection Guide), proper fit and proper wearing is essential, if in an environment with airborne contaminants. Your mask needs to fit correctly, so that there are minimal air leaks. And then it must be worn correctly, to avoid accidental contamination.
First, let’s look at proper fit. A correctly fitted face mask will not have any air leaking out the top into your eyes and will have little or no air leaks elsewhere.
For all masks, adjust the nose strip to fit snugly, but not tightly, over your nose. Be careful not to bend the end of the strip in against your face, as this will become uncomfortable after even a short time of wearing. The ear loops should hold the mask so that it is snug against your face, but not so tight that your ears bend forward or become sore.
When a mask is correctly fitted, you should be feeling some level of resistance when you breath, but not so much that it is difficult to breath. If you find that you are becoming short of breath and struggling to breathe effectively, you may need to switch to a different kind of mask. Many people report that the KN95 is easiest, because it doesn’t suck in against your mouth with every breath, while others find that the 3-ply masks have less air resistance and therefore work better for them. For a few people, no mask is tolerable; these must avoid environments with high levels of pollutants and wear a face shield to minimize exposure to airborne contaminants.
If you are wearing an N95 mask, you should be professionally fitted to be sure that you have the correct size. This fit test will make sure that you are not able to taste or smell a chemical substance that is blown over the mask. If you can, it usually means that you are wearing the wrong size. (Or that you have a beard, which makes it super tough to get a tight fit!). While there is no formal KN95 fit test at this moment, a well fitted KN95 mask should give you similar results (of not able totaste or smell a chemical substance that is blown over the mask.)
Wearing a face mask correctly is not as easy as you might think. As a nurse who has been extensively trained how to properly wear PPE, some of the things I see make me sigh and wince.
Here is a step-by-step guide to correctly wearing a mask.
- Wash your hands before putting it on
- Hold the mask by the ear loops and place them over your ears
- Gently shape the nose wire to fit your nose
- Blow a puff of air to check for leakage
- Don’t touch it again until you need to take it off! This is the single biggest mistake that we all make. Just remember, if there is any contaminant in the air, it will most likely land on the outside of your mask. If you touch the outside, that is now on your hands and being spread to everything you touch.
- When you’re ready to take your mask off, grab the ear loops and pull the mask forward. Discard in a proper waste receptacle or place on a clean surface with the outside down.
- Wash your hands.
- Repeat these steps as needed. If you re-use a mask (as is often appropriate for KN95 and N95 masks that are not soiled), remember to wash your hands after putting on and adjusting the mask.