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Heading out the door? Keys, Phone, Wallet… Face mask.
As we're all aware, proper protective wear is now essential in many indoor spaces. That means that we should no longer be nipping to the shops, for a coffee or to the petrol station without our little elasticated friend in tow.
The problem is, when everyone is online searching for this new accessory, and demand is high, our browsers become saturated with options - many of which simply are not as 'protective' as they may lead us to believe.
It's easy to be distracted by the thousands of different prints, fabrics and designs - but what is really going to keep us safe. This is just what our very own Dr Khan has been exploring during lockdown...
'It's difficult knowing what to choose when there are so many options available to us,' says Dr Khan.
'It's helpful to look at the science behind how a mask provides protection to understand what to be on the lookout for as a consumer.'
Coronavirus invades the body via the mouth, nose and eyes - most commonly this is transmitted when an infected person has close contact with another, uninfected person. Most of us are aware of that much at least.
Infection happens because we inhale droplets or aerosol put out into the air by someone that is infected. When an infected person breathes, these droplets can be taken in by anyone within a 1 metre radius. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, however, these droplets are propelled up to 2 whole metres.
'What we're looking for here is filtration efficiency,' says Dr Khan. 'A mask with a 2-way filter system. Something that allows you to breathe comfortably but is heavy-duty enough to protect from these droplets and propellent gases.'
'We, essentially, need an adequate barrier. A lot of the novel options we see online just don't offer this.'
Of course, wearing a homemade mask is better than no mask at all - but we can still do better.
Dr Khan explains that whilst homemade masks may be government-compliant, they are - in actuality - far less effective and can sometimes even become counter-productive...
'Research suggests that cloth fabric masks can be less than half as efficient than medical masks'
Dr Khan explains how not only does this mean they may not protect against airborne viral particles but they also have one fatal design flaw...
'Homemade masks are typically made from fabric which will absorb moisture. This makes them feel very stifling, and they can be much harder to wear for longer periods of time. They may be washable, but they are also prone to stretch. Ill-fitting masks can leave the wearer exposed.'
Dr Khan reminds us that we needn't spend a fortune on PPE for powerful protection - we must simply know what to look for.
'Personally, my recommendation is the standard, medical 3-ply or Type IIR masks. They are low-cost and disposable so run a much lower risk of cross-contamination.'
Type 11R Surgical Masks provide a protection level of 98% filtration - a safe level recommended by the World Health Organisation.
3-Ply Masks are slightly lower in their level of filtration, but are extremely breathable and come with pleats designed to not accommodate facial movement without shifting. Those of us that are in the medical field have been using them for years - so we know all about long-term use.
'Of course, the gold standard of masks are FFP3 respirators. If you decide to invest in one of these, make sure you check it has CE certifcation. This indicates it is fit for UK use.'
Aside from the obvious barrier that a mask provides, studies also indicate that they reduce the number of times a person touches their face throughout the day.
'They also serve as a signal to others that a safe distance should be maintained. Distance and proper protection are the only known ways to reduce our risk of contracting the virus so we must do our bit to contain the spread.'
'You can get more from your Type IIR or 3-ply mask by spraying them with sanitiser; too. With freshly clean hands, applying a light, sanitising spray to the mask. This can actually extend their lifespan by between three and five uses.'
Speaking of lifespan, Dr Khan offers some advice on how and when it is medically advised to swap out our face coverings.
'Non-medical masks should be thoroughly cleaned as soon as they become damp or soiled. Often this means daily washing is recommended. Just make sure to watch out for damage or tears which will compromise the integrity of the mask and its effectiveness.'
'Traditionally, medical masks are single-use, also. For non-medical use, however, you can use them more than once (2 or 3 uses maximum) provided you have kept them clean and have only touched them with freshly sanitised hands.'
'I get asked about this a lot,' says Dr Khan.
'It is vital you make sure you wear your mask so that it forms a seal around the mouth and nose area.' he says. 'This will keep moisture locked in and prevent leakage from potentially infecting someone else.'
'This is another reason why pleated Type 11R and 3-Ply masks are preferable. The pleated design moves and contracts with the face to retain its shape. Fabric masks often shift and expose the nose, as well as the jaw and chin.'
If your medical mask is a little large, Dr Khan suggests simply twisting the elasticated ear straps a few times before placing them over the top of the ear. 'This will pull the material closer to the face and hold it more firmly in place'.
But above all, Dr Khan reminds us to 'remain diligent'. 'Keep your distance, and together we can stay safe.'