Is a surgical mask enough?
While regular surgical masks do protect your nose and mouth from irritants, they are not effective in filtering fine particles from the haze. As the haze contains contaminants that are 2.5 microns or smaller, there are specific types of mask to go for if you want to reduce the effects the haze has on your body.
The N95 mask is certified to have 95% filter efficiency by the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. N95 masks can offer you sufficient protection from the haze as long as they are fitted according to your face.
The EN-149 mask meets the European standard for respiratory masks, and filters 80-99% of airborne contaminants.
When should I wear an N95 mask?
It works as a fashion choice anyway, but you may want to seriously consider investing in a mask if you have to be outdoors for several hours when the air quality is in the hazardous range (PSI 300>), according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). This is especially so if you are not well, in which case it may be better for you to consult a physician or stay home.
However, if you are only going to be out for a short time, masks may not be that necessary. Schools and workplaces should also have haze measures in place, so if the air quality gets too serious, the only time you should be worried about the haze harming your health is when you are travelling out on your own.
Photo: Ng Sor Luan for the Straits Times
How long can I wear my N95 mask for?
As most N95 masks come in larger packets, they may look like single-use disposables – but they actually can be reused for several times. They are, however, advised to be changed regularly as most masks only offer limited time protection.
But as a rule of thumb, you may want to change it once the mask is damaged, soiled or distorted in shape, as this may reduce the effectiveness of the mask by allowing dust particles to enter.
Also, N95 masks should not be shared, and cannot be washed or disinfected.
Photo: Neo XiaoBin for the Straits Times
Where can I get a mask?
N95 masks can be found at most major pharmacies and supermarkets in Singapore, like Unity, Watsons, Guardian, Cold Storage and FairPrice. You can find different brands, colours, shapes and sizes with features that can be adjusted to your comfort, like noseclips and soft nose foam.
Unlike the N95 masks, the EN-149 are less likely to be in-store in Singapore. You can instead order them from their distributors online, such as Greenham Safety & Workplace Supplies.
Can I engage in heavy physical activity as long as I have a mask on?
Healthy people should reduce outdoor physical exertion during haze periods over an extended period of time. This applies especially to children, the elderly and pregnant, and those unwell or have chronic or heart disease.
Physical exertion should be avoided because it makes us breathe harder and faster, thereby increasing the intake of harmful particles into our body. They may also potentially trigger bigger health problems.
Even though you have a mask on, it is not a foolproof way to combat the contaminants in the haze during exercise. There is also breathing resistance when wearing a mask, which will hinder your breathing during heavy physical exertion.
Do I still need a mask indoors?
Staying indoors is advisable when there is bad air quality because there are less haze particles in a closed environment compared to an open one. If your doors and windows are closed, you are also reducing such contaminants from entering your home, which means using a mask indoors isn’t absolutely necessary.
Fans and air-conditioners, too, can be used to circulate cleaner air while cooling your body. Air-conditioners can work as a form of filter for the contaminated air from the haze, and adding portable air purifiers also help further reduce the existing particles within your home.
If the haze still bothers you, you may also try using wet-cleaning methods to ensure that your home is clear of settled dust from the haze. While doing so, remember to stay hydrated because not only do you get dehydrated more easily from the haze, drinking water helps your body flush out toxins absorbed by your lungs and skin!
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