Face Masks have recently been trending to the vast majority of the population these days. Especially with the current outbreak of a new-found virus in Wuhan, China, the number of people who are now using face masks has been getting higher. But what most people don’t know is that face masks have been around for quite a long time now. And it has been used to protect medical practitioners long before our great grandparents were born. Here’s everything you need to know about facemasks.
Let’s go back in time when the face mask was first used for medical purposes, a history that we may have missed throughout our nursing career. The year was around 1347 (482 years before the birth of The Lady with the Lamp, Florence Nightingale) when the Bubonic Plague, most infamously known as the Black Death has ravaged continental Europe and as its name is called, have brought death to more almost half of the world’s population according to some accounts.
The Plague Doctors
During the era of the plague, medical practitioners, also known as Plague Doctors believe that the disease was transmitted via the foul smell of the environment. Thus, they have created a beak-shaped mask that was filled with flowers and herbs which would oust the foul smell of the environment. This was the first form of the face mask that we are using today. Since the medieval doctors didn’t have a clear understanding of disease transmission, they kept on speculating and made tons of unconventional or even wrong procedures such as blood-letting or draining the boils which were a terrible thing to do especially when dealing with a highly contagious patient. And because of the lack of knowledge that our practitioners had back in that era, their protective equipment didn’t stop them from acquiring the disease itself.
Fast forward to many centuries after the Black Death, in 1897 a surgeon in the name of Johann von Mikulicz Radecki had created a face mask out of a layer of gauze and it was intended to avoid surgical sepsis to the patients. He did this to popularize Joseph Lister’s aseptic methods and from that year, face masks have just elevated the aseptic techniques of the medical practitioners and have become a vital part of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). It was primarily used as a precaution for surgical sepsis and as it has evolved into serving as a protection of the medical practitioners as well from acquiring illness from their patients. It has recently evolved from a single sheet of gauze into better designs such as a non-woven material that trap particles in the mask so these bacterial and viral particles do not pass through the mask. And with the recent expansion of our technology in the medical field, there has been a lot of improvement when it comes to face masks.
There are currently different types of face masks that are specifically used in different scenarios such as the Disposable Hypoallergenic Face Masks, N95 Face Mask, and Dust Mask.
Now let’s talk about the current trend that is happening with society and its relationship with the use of face masks. With the recent outbreaks of different viruses and epidemics, more and more of the population are using the face mask daily. Not only does it protect the people from different viruses and illnesses, but it also protects people from inhaling smog and other pollutants such as ashfalls from volcanic eruptions in the environment. But here’s the issue, the majority of the population are not very much aware of the right face mask to use for different types of protection. And to make things worse, many capitalists have taken advantage of these panic and have then created a face mask that is substandard or is not intended to protect the people from the viruses and/or the potential harm of the environment. Just like the Plague Doctors in Medieval times, People’s lack of awareness about the proper use of these different types of equipment is one of the reasons why it’s becoming ineffective.
Know the Proper Protection
Now it is very important to take note of the current situation of the surroundings that we healthcare providers are dealing with. By knowing the current situation that we are in, it will be easier for us to choose the proper protection that we can use. Also, take note that not all face masks are reusable. We nurses have to find what fits in our needs. Different types of face masks provide different types of protection so we have to be aware of this. Let us discuss three different types of face masks that would benefit us. Secondly, we’ll also discuss the fiasco of the outrageous price hike of face masks and why it spiked so high. Lastly, we will discuss the things that most people are doing wrong and how to amend them when using a face mask.
The rule of thumb is, Why do we need to wear a face mask? Is it to protect us from viruses and other diseases? Is it to protect us from the harsh environment? Or is it to protect others? When we have identified these, take a look at these different types of face masks:
Three Types of Face Mask
1. DISPOSABLE HYPOALLERGENIC FACE MASK
This is the most commonly used face mask in the medical field as part of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This face mask serves two purposes, it can protect us from acquiring the illness from patients and it also can protect us from acquiring potential illnesses from them (avoiding nosocomial infection). Although this is the one that is most accessible for public use, it performs poorly in the outside environment. Why? Because even we bring a box of this face mask with us, it won’t give us maximum protection against the harsh environment and the potential illnesses that we can acquire while we are walking on the streets with thousands of people that we meet. Well, even if we would often change our face mask, which is not cost-effective, it still would not give us the protection that we need.
2. N95 FACE MASK
This particular type of N95 face mask provides the wearer with a 95% efficiency level against harmful particulates such as H1N1 virus and other airborne pathogens. It is the best mask to use if we are worried about acquiring illnesses when either in our shift or in public places. But, the efficiency of N95 masks has its cons. The N95 face mask should fit perfectly into the wearer’s face. So, before considering of buying it, we have to make sure that it is fitted properly first. How do you do it? There are several methods for the fit-test of N95 masks and the Infection Prevention and Control Department (IPC) of an institution is the one responsible for doing this. They also provide a certificate and/or ID Card that you have passed the fit-test. Always remember, a mask that is not properly fitted to the user is ineffective, regardless of its protective qualities.
3. N95 DUST MASK
A dust mask is a type of mask that protects the wearer from harsh environments. It’s specifically designed to prevent the wearer from inhaling any dangerous particles like smog, asbestos and other dangerous substances in the air. This dust mask has a more durable build quality into it but this is also more susceptible to misuse or poor fit. So don’t be too quick to decide that because this is much cheaper than the N95 Surgical Mask then you would opt into buying it. Always remember the purpose of why you need to wear the mask. If it is not really fitting to your need to buy a mask to protect you from dust or irritants from the air, then a dust mask may not be for you.
Face Mask Craze
With all that in mind, let’s now move forward to the face mask craze, the price-hike, and the face masks that simply don’t serve anyone any good at all, including healthcare providers. The popularity of the face mask began when numerous new diseases started to pop out of nowhere, from the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) to this newly discovered NCoV (Novel Coronavirus) adding to the already worsening climate condition that the world is dealing with. Many capitalists have taken advantage of these events and when the coronavirus hit the world, the demand for face masks have been skyrocketing. It only goes to show that more and more people are being informed about the current situation and yes, they were correct that the use of face mask can protect from the disease but they simply stopped there.
People started to do panic buying and just bought whatever the market has to offer. That’s where it goes wrong. Because a lot of face masks companies in the market right now are not even officially certified. There is an officiating body that certifies and recommends the efficiency of face masks; it’s called the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). is responsible for research and the recommendation of these protective types of equipment, and many companies who create these different face masks don’t have a NIOSH recommendation. Even us who are the front-liners when it comes to battling this disease are experiencing the scarcity of the supply on face mask. Nevertheless, health professional never settles for substandard face masks and are always keen on choosing the right face mask to wear. After all, we should stand as a role-model to the mass public when it comes to keeping us safe from these imminent dangers; it is part of our job.
What can we do to protect ourselves and others?
Here’s what we can do; it’s always important to go back to the basics of the Universal Precaution. To refresh our memory, here’s the tip of the iceberg, it is the practice in the medical field wherein the staff uses nonporous materials such as gloves, face masks, face shields and gowns to protect them from bodily fluids of the patients. But we all know this because we practice this all the time. What we can do is to share this knowledge with our patients, loved ones and our community because they can take some key practices from this universal precaution and make it an essential practice to maximize their protection from the potential disease that they can get from the public.
A very good example of this is Hand Hygiene. We can share with them that Hand hygiene can be done in two different ways, one is Hand Rub, using a hand sanitizer or alcohol and the other is Hand Washing, using soap and water. It’s a very simple way to protect their selves from whatever their hands have accumulated and touched, yet a very important part of keeping them safe from illnesses. Another practice that we can share from universal precaution is covering their mouth when sneezing or coughing. You can read more about these practices through this article: https://www.rnspeak.com/novel-coronavirus-what-nurses-should-prepare-for/
So as nurses, what are our key takeaways from this article?
Well, first we should know what our purpose is why we’re using a face mask. Second, we should know the right face mask for us. And third, we should be aware of the practices that will maximize our protection against the potential diseases in which we could pass these practices to our community. It pays a lot when we have a keen awareness of our environment. And always remember, taking good care of our body and always keeping our immune system in pristine condition would always be our best weapon against susceptibility of potential illnesses.