The competitive struggle between corporations coupled with endless burning of fuels have deteriorated the state of our home planet disastrously; so much so, that we have found ourselves in the midst of a pollution crisis.

Smog and pollution are one of the biggest problems of the modern world. The problem is worse for people with lung diseases because it makes breathing more difficult and aggravates their pre-existing conditions.

Why is smog and pollution bad for the lungs?

The reason why smog is so dangerous for you is that on hot days it produces ozone gas. Ground level ozone can aggravate lung diseases and deteriorate the function of your lungs. Breathing in large amounts of smog is therefore very dangerous for your body.

Many people turn to masks to protect themselves from this dangerous pollutant. But the question arises, do masks really help?

And if they do, then which types are the most effective?

Here we talk about surgical masks, disposable respirators and gas masks and discuss how effective they really are against pollution. 

Surgical masks

Surgical masks
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Going out in a smog laden city, you might see many people wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from breathing in the smog particles. But the fact is, surgical masks do not help with smog or any type of pollution at all.

Surgical masks are designed for doctors or hospital workers to wear to protect sterilized operating rooms and procedures from becoming contaminated. They aren’t even made to protect the doctors! It is more or less a mystery why surgical masks are trusted so blindly by the world for every respiratory protection measure in the book. From traffic pollution to coronavirus, people don surgical masks to go out, confident that their lungs are safe from the contaminant when they are anything but!

For ideal protection, you need a mask which

  • seals the area around the mouth and nose so that the only way for the air to enter is through the mask.
  • has a filtering capacity of at least particulate matter 2.5, which is the general level of urban pollution particles.

An average surgical mask gives you neither of these. On the contrary, it might give you a false sense of security which may make you subconsciously careless and have a negative affect instead.

N-95 Masks – Disposable Respirators

Disposable Respirators
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The N-95 mask, which has gained widespread popularity since the coronavirus scare is also remarkably affective against pollution and smog.

That’s right, the N-95 mask forms a tight seal around the nose and mouth which prevents the air from entering from anywhere other than through its surface. Its surface has a 95% filtration rate, and it filters particles as small as 0.3 micrometers. This allows it to effectively filter out harmful particles from the air and protect your lungs.

Because of the tight seal, the N-95 mask and others of its type make around the face, carbon dioxide and moisture build up in the mask and you experience difficulty breathing. If you have any sort of lung disease, it is advised not to wear the mask for long periods of time. This is why, remember to get an N-95 with a breathing valve. The breathing valve allows you to breathe easily and also filters the air which you breathe in.

However, one of the downsides of the N-95 is that it does not protect the eyes. Many people report that smog makes their eyes burn and itch. The N-95, because it only offers protection to the nose and mouth, does not help with that. If you want to use this mask and want to protect your eyes too, you can simply buy a pair of cheap swimming goggles and wear them over the mask.

Alternatives to N-95 Mask

An alternative to the N-95 mask is the N-99; it offers a greater percentage of – 99% – than the N-95.

By European standards, the FFP2 mask is equivalent to the N-95, and the FFP3 mask is equivalent to the N-99.

All these respirators are, however, disposable. They will only work for about a week if you’re using them against pollution. After that, you will have to throw it out and purchase a new one.

Gas mask:

Full-face gas mask
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If you don’t like the idea of buying a new disposable respirator every week and are looking for a more long-lasting solution, a gas mask may be the right choice for you.

While full-face gas masks may look scary and give a post-apocalyptic vibe, they protect the eyes completely. Half-face gas masks are much less intimidating, but like N-95s, they give no protection to the eyes.

But both full-face and half face-gas masks provide effective protection against pollution. The thing to choose carefully, however, is the type of filtration cartridges you are using. If you want to use it for smog or pollution, you need particulate filters which filter out harmful particles from the air and make it clean to breathe. Other types of filters work on vapors or toxic gasses. You can choose to get particulate filters or go with combination filters, which offer both gas and particle filtration; both these types will protect you against pollution.

Bear in mind that gas masks only provide filtered oxygen that they take from outside. They do not supply oxygen on their own. So, if you are in a place where there are low oxygen levels (like a burning building), you should use a supply mask instead, which supplies clean oxygen too.

Face Masks against smog and pollution – the bottom line

While many people think surgical masks are protecting them from smog and pollution, they are not. The only masks that truly help are those which form a seal around the mouth and nose and filter particles smaller than PM 2.5 – those include N-95 masks and others of a similar standard, and gas masks with particle filters.

In the end, the right choice of mask for you depends on what purpose you plan to use it for. Choose wisely and stay safe!