Top mistakes wearing surgical masks during a pandemic or flu season.
Mistakes wearing surgical masks are rampant and we see them everywhere. Let’s fix a few easy ones.
Is wearing a mask during a pandemic helpful?
The research is not great but seems to point to the answer being yes according to BMJ 2020 Greenhalgh. Face masks are not sufficient for health care workers for complete protection. The biggest hurdle is that individuals are making mistakes when wearing surgical masks. These mistakes are making those individuals more prone to infection. Overall the recommendations are to wear masks in public but we can make that recommendation more definitive by decreasing the mistakes people are making.
We assume if someone is willing to wear a mask they will bother to do it correctly. Wearing it correctly and avoiding the simple mistakes are fairly easy if one is aware of the mistakes. We feel many of these mistakes come about because people feel the mask is a perfect permanent barrier and that is not true. Masks are filters and they aren’t even very good filters.
Mistake number 1 when wearing a surgical mask – Stop touching the front of the mask!
A mask is not a 100% full proof barrier to all infective agents. Some can and do get through. The older and the more damp your mask gets, from your breath or air humidity, the worse the mask is. If you touch your mask, you put whatever is on your hands on the mask. That’s the air you are breathing!
Your hands go everywhere! Consider your hands to have active infection on them at all times and wearing gloves just means that your gloves have infection on them. So do not touch the front of your mask with anything! To remove your mask do so by the ear strap. Try not to adjust your mask. If you find you need to constantly adjust your mask then you need a different mask. Constant adjustments of the mask can increase your risk to infection vs no mask at all.
Mistake number 2 – Masks do not last forever.
Many people have 1 or 2 masks they wear all day for days or weeks at a time. You are almost certainly doing more harm than good with that strategy. You either need to disinfect your mask, letting it sit in a paper bag for 4 days is enough to kill many viruses, or wash your mask if it is cloth. Do not wear your mask in situations you do not need to. In general, the longer you wear it the less effective it will become. For instance, take it off in your car.
Mistake number 3 – Not covering your nose and mouth, makes wearing a mask useless.
This should go without saying but you’ll commonly see this mistake. The mask needs to cover your breathing holes, it the nose and the mouth. Having it off the nose means yhou get the risk of cross contamination of wearing the mask but none of the benefits.
Other common mistakes wearing surgical masks.
Other mistakes are fairly minor. Having a poor fit by not adjusting the metal strip over your nose, decreases the usefulness of a mask. Some spray the mask with disinfectant, thinking that will help. Wet masks do not work as well.