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Use of masks and availability of masks
Updated as at 28 june 2013

1. Who should use an N95 mask? When?

  • N95 masks are recommended for individuals who undertake prolonged and strenuous work outdoors when air quality is in the hazardous range ( PSI>300) N95 masks are also recommended for individuals who are outdoors when air quality is in the hazardous range
  • N95 masks are not needed for short exposure, like commuting from home to school or work, travel from bus-stop to shopping mall.

  • N95 masks are also not needed in an indoor environment.

  • Elderly people and people with lung or heart problems should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable. Those with severe lung or heart problems who have difficulty breathing at rest or on exertion should not wear N95 masks. They should consult their doctor as to whether they should use the N95 mask.

  • Women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy should not use the N95 mask for more than a short duration each time.

  • N95 masks are not certified for use in children, so children should try to stay indoors when air quality is in the hazardous range ( PSI >300)

2. What about children? Children's N95 masks are not available.
  • The N95 masks that are currently available have not been designed by the manufacturer for use in children.  Further, to be effective, N95 masks need to maintain a well-fitted seal at all times, which may be difficult to achieve in young children. In addition, young children may find it uncomfortable to wear a tight-fitting mask and will very likely adjust the mask that is worn, reducing the effectiveness of the mask. 

  • Although certain types of N95 masks are being offered for sale for young children, their claims of effectiveness have not been verified by the relevant authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) or Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA). 

  • While older children (e.g. upper secondary school and above) may be able to fit the smaller sized N95 masks for adults, please note that the mask manufacturers do not certify effectiveness of the mask for this group.  (Based on height and weight data of Singaporean children, an average upper secondary child is similar in size to a small-sized adult.)  Older children with chronic heart and lung disease should not be using N95 masks without medical (paediatric specialist) advice.

  • Children should avoid outdoor activity when air quality is in the hazardous range ( PSI>300).


3. Is the N95 mask an adequate protection against the haze? Does it protect against PM2.5?

  • N95 masks are designed to seal to the face of the wearer. This way, most of the air that the wearer breathes in has to go through the filter and not through the gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face. Haze particles are predominantly made up of fine particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5). Studies have shown that N95 masks do provide good protection against the haze as they are at least 95% efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 – 0.3 microns. It is even more efficient (99.5% efficient) against particles that are 0.75 microns and larger.


4. What are the effects of wearing a N95 mask?

  • The use of N95 masks increases effort in breathing.  For some people, the use of N95 mask may cause discomfort in breathing, tiredness or headache. This may be due to the mask causing increased resistance to breathing, and a reduction in the volume of air breathed. For most people this is not serious.

  • However, some elderly people, people with lung or heart conditions, and women in the later stages of pregnancy may already have reduced lung volumes or breathing issues.

  • Because of this, elderly people and people with lung or heart problems should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable. Those with severe lung or heart problems who have difficulty breathing at rest or on exertion should not wear N95 masks. They should consult their doctor as to whether they should use the N95 mask.

  • Women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy should not use the N95 mask for more than a short duration each time.

  • N95 masks are not certified for use in children, so children should try to stay indoors when air quality is poor.


5. How do I get a mask? Is there a shortage of N95 masks?

  • MOH has worked with manufacturers and suppliers to ensure supply of N95 masks in Singapore. Masks are available at major supermarkets, such as NTUC FairPrice, Giant and Cold Storage and pharmacies such as Guardian and Unity.  MOH also  maintains a stockpile of N95 masks that may be released to major supermarkets and pharmacies if needed.
  • People should only buy N95 masks for those who need to use them and when required, as per MOH's health advisory.


6. Are there different types of N95 masks in the market?

  • There are different brands of N95 masks in the market which have the same functionality. They come in different colours, shapes and sizes.

  • Our national stockpile comprises these three brands : Kimberly-Clark, 3M and Draeger (also known as Dräger).

Some models of different masks available :

N95

7. What are EN-149: 2001 masks? Are they equivalent to the N95 masks?

  • EN-149 is one of the European Standard for masks while N95 masks are certified by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Both types of masks are designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours.

  • The EN-149 masks are classified in 3 classes depending on the ability to separate air-borne particles:  

faq

FFP2 masks that meet the EN-149 standard are the closest to N95 masks in the ability to filter particles.


8. How would members of public know if the N95 or other types of masks meet safety and quality standards?


9. 
How does a consumer choose which mask to purchase?

Both the NIOSH-certified N95 masks or the EN-149 masks are designed to reduce wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles, gases or vapours. Consumers should perform a fit check to ensure a good fit.


10. How do I learn to fit my N95 mask?

  • For best effect, N95 masks need to be fitted properly for each user. To check for proper fit, please check that the available mask is appropriately sized and covers the nose and mouth comfortably without leak.

  • The HPB website has a step by step guide on how to wear N95 masks properly.  See http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB051227

  • The use of N95 masks to filter out pollutants in the air is not identical to the use of N95 masks for infection control in a healthcare institution during a disease pandemic situation.  For use during haze, even if the mask is not perfectly fitted, it can still be useful in filtering out pollutants for those need to wear it.


11. How do I wear a mask?



Here are step by step instructions on how to wear different models of N95 masks:

N95
3M-8210
N95
Kimberly-Clark 46727
N95
Dräger Piccola FFP3


12. Can I reuse my N95 mask?

  • You can reuse your N95 mask. It should be changed when it gets soiled or distorted in shape. It should not be shared.


13. Are surgical masks useful?

  • Normal surgical masks can protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from irritants in the air but are not effective in filtering fine particles.

  • Individuals with acute respiratory infections may wish to wear a surgical mask to prevent spread of infection.

  • Individuals may feel more comfortable having a surgical mask for short periods of time for unavoidable outdoor exposure e.g. commuting from home to MRT station, and waiting for public transportation. 

  • The N95 mask is only recommended in healthy adults if prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity is unavoidable when the air quality is in the very unhealthy range, and if outdoor activity is unavoidable when the air quality is in the hazardous range.

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Last Updated: 25 February 2014
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