An Ultimate Guide on Respirators
All you need to know about Respirators
Hardly, anyone would have heard about respirators back in the 2010s, and surely only a few used it quite frequently. The pandemic essentially just enforced people to protect themselves from the deadly COVID-19 disease. This viral catastrophe demanded that humankind had to restrict the entry of the pathogen. This can be achieved either by eliminating or neutralizing the entry or effects of the virus or by not allowing any pathway to enter the body. Soap & water, fogging machines, hand sanitizers, face masks, respirators, and other PPE equipment were frequently used during the pandemic.
When the entry of particles is to be restricted, respirators come to one’s rescue. Respirators not only restrict the entry of pathogens (including bacteria & viruses) but also protect an individual from the entry of aerosols, carcinogenic particles, radioactive particles & fine particles too. Even before the pandemic, respirators were widely used by workers as a part of their PPE kits.
In this article, the primary focus would be on respirators. This article aims to educate the reader about each & every aspect of the respirator, right from its functioning to its different types.
What are Respirators?
A respirator is a specially designed equipment that protects an individual by restricting the entry of pathogens, fine dust particles, PM, carcinogenic particles, radioactive particles, gases, vapors, and other fine particles.
How do Respirators work?
Depending upon the function required, the respirators are tailor-made to restrict a particular constituent. For example, gas masks are designed to restrict the entry of gases, fumes & vapors. Respirators that are used in the pandemic fall under the category of respirator half masks. Respirator half masks only cover the bottom part of the face, i.e. nose & mouth.
Respirators are made up of multiple layers. Each and every layer has a unique role. They provide filtration, tensile strength, tear resistance, breathing resistance, aesthetics, and many more. These layers of material are usually accompanied by valves.
For example, let’s consider the aspect of breathing resistance. This factor determines the resistance that an individual faces while the process of breathing takes place. High breathing resistance means that an individual’s lungs have to put in more effort. So, to achieve low breathing resistance, the material should be permeable to the air on one side, while the other side (or another material layer) should be efficient in filtering the particles. For this, the material is electrostatically charged, this restricts the movement of particles through the layer.
A word from the CDC
According to the CDC, respirators work in two primary ways. The first way of working is by the elimination of the target particle or constituent from the air. These types of masks are widely used in filtering out pathogens, particulate matter, gases & vapors. Another way of working is by providing a supply of clean air (free of impurities such as PM, dust particles, and other particles that can create hindrance in breathing). These respirators usually have a source of compressed air through which they are capable of the supply of clean air.
How do Respirators differ from Face Masks?
Many parameters help in distinguishing respirators from face masks. Let’s look at the three most important parameters,
The first parameter is evaluation & certification. While the face masks don’t really require approval (for example, DIY cloth masks), respirators undergo medium to rigorous testing depending upon the agency approving it. While the N95 respirators are approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) after rigorous testing related to their efficiency, breathing resistance, safety, and other parameters. Whereas KN95 respirators are approved by the Chinese regulators. You can take a glance at the differences between N95 and KN95 respirators.
Fact: According to CDC, N95 respirators should filter out at least 95 percent of particles that are around the size of 0.3 microns. It has been found out that the N95 respirators are highly efficient (more than 95%) in filtering the particles with size larger (and even smaller) than 0.3 microns.
Respirators are designed to seal fit to an individual’s face with the task of filtering out harmful constituent particles and/or pathogens. Face masks are used to protect an individual from droplets and it doesn’t seal fit to an individual’s face.
The minimum possible percentage of filtering can be easily determined for respirators. For example, an N95 respirator has a minimum of 95% filtering capacity for smaller particles. Similarly, N99 & N100 respirators have 99% & 100% (actually 99.97%) filtering capacity respectively. While the face masks aren’t effective in filtering out these smaller particles.
Different Types of Respirators
For dealing with the pandemic, particle-filtering respirators are used. These respirators restrict the entry of smaller size particles & pathogens and are non-effective against gases, fumes, and vapors.
Depending upon the area one resides, there are different types of respirators. This is due to different standards set by the approval agencies around the world. For example, in Europe, respirators are classified into three types, namely, FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3. The FFP1 has the least filtering capacity while the FFP3 has around 98% filtering capacity (quite comparable to N99 respirators). FFP2 has a 92% filtering capacity that makes it comparable to the NIOSH-approved N95 respirators.
The US, Canada, and a few other nations use NIOSH-approved respirators. The most famous one being the N95 masks. N95, N99, N100 respirators undergo rigorous testing by NIOSH and hence are very effective in their functioning, and quite comfortable too. Even before the pandemic, N95 respirators were widely used in the healthcare & industrial sectors as a part of PPE.
NIOSH & the US FDA (Food & Drug Administration) have termed & cleared a few N95 respirators as healthcare respirators. These respirators protect the individual from pathogens, PM, aerosols, bodily fluids as well as respiratory emissions.
Another type of respirator is the air-purifying respirator. These respirators suck the air and supply purified air for breathing. These types of respirators are used mainly in industries & research purposes for protection against gases, vapors, fumes, and PM (Particulate Matter).
How should one wear a Respirator?
Here are the steps of donning an N95 mask:
- Hold the respirator with the nosepiece facing outwards, and the straps facing downwards.
- Now, place the head strap below the ears.
- Hold the respirator with one hand.
- Place the straps over the ears.
- Check the comfort level of the respirator.
- If you aren’t comfortable, then adjust the respirator.
- If necessary use a nose bridge.
Here are the steps of doffing an N95 mask:
- Hold the respirator with one hand.
- Pull the bottom strap over your head with the other hand.
- Lift & remove the respirator with your dominant hand.
A respirator is quite essential to protect oneself in a toxic & harmful environment, especially in the healthcare & industrial sectors. In the pandemic, these respirators played an important role in protecting humankind from the entry of the pathogenic novel coronavirus. Respirators have surely protected many lives in this pandemic, and have acted as a shield against the COVID-19 disease. This article has shed light on respirators, their working, the difference between respirators & face masks, and different types of respirators.
Stay Safe! Stay Healthy!