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Face Masks for Illness: Should I Wear a Face Mask When I’m Sick?

Mother wearing a face mask leaning down to help her young child put on a face mask

What is a face mask?

A face mask is a piece of material with ear loops, ties or a band that goes around the back of the wearer’s head, designed with the purpose of covering its wearer’s nose and mouth and helping protect against the spread of germs and disease.i

There are multiple types of masks that can all be grouped under the category “face mask,” including N95 respirators, surgical masks and cloth face coverings. As categorized by the FDA, an N95 respirator is a device that is designed to filter airborne particles in an extremely efficient manner with edges that form a seal around its wearer’s nose and mouth.ii Like an N95 respirator, a surgical mask is a protective device that guards its wearer against environmental contaminants such as airborne particles and liquidsiii but, unlike an N95 respirator, is not designed with edges that form a seal around the nose and mouth.iv N95 respirators and surgical masks are not suggested for everyday use, as current CDC guidelines recommend that these supplies be reserved for critical healthcare workers and medical first responders.v

The third category of face masks for illness, which is suitable for non-critical, everyday wear, is the cloth face covering. You can make a cloth face covering at homevi from common materials like a t-shirt or fashion one out of household items like bandanas, coffee filters and rubber bands.vii A homemade cloth face covering should include multiple layers of fabric.viii

 

When should I wear a face mask?

If you plan to be around other people and you or someone you’ll be interacting with is sick with a cough or sneezing illness, with or without a fever, wearing a face mask is a justifiable precaution to take.ix A person may release tiny drops of bodily fluids into the air when talking, coughing or sneezing. Wearing a face mask can provide a protective barrier that reduces the spray of bodily fluid and germs released into the air that may potentially infect other people.x Whether you’re sick and want to protect others from catching your illness or you want to protect yourself from the bodily fluids of others, wearing a face mask can help provide this protection. That being said, face coverings and face masks for illness are only effective in preventing disease transmission when used in combination with other methods of intervention, such as cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.xi

 

How to wear a face mask when sick

If you choose to wear a face mask to help protect against the transmission of illness, it is important to know how to take it on and off properly. Before putting on a medical-grade mask, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Make sure that the mask covers both your nose and your mouth, without leaving any gaps between your face and the mask. When your mask becomes damp, replace it with a new one.xii Do not share or reuse disposable masks.xiii After removing a medical mask, discard the used mask immediately and clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.xiv

If you’re using a cloth face covering, take care that it fits snugly but comfortably against your face and is secured at the back of your head with a tie or around your ears with loops. Your cloth face covering should allow you to breath without restriction.xv Machine washing is adequate for cleaning your cloth face covering.xvi

Looking for more information about respiratory health? Visit our Relief Center for additional resources.

 

SOURCES

i. How to Put on and Remove a Face Mask. San Francisco Department of Public Health. https://www.sfcdcp.org/communicable-disease/healthy-habits/how-to-put-on-and-remove-a-face-mask/. Accessed 04/08/20.

ii. N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-and-surgical-masks-face-masks. Accessed 04.10.20.

iii. N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-and-surgical-masks-face-masks. Accessed 04/08/20.

iv. N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-and-surgical-masks-face-masks. Accessed 04/08/20.

v. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.

vi. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.

vii. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.

viii. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.

ix. How to Put on and Remove a Face Mask. San Francisco Department of Public Health. https://www.sfcdcp.org/communicable-disease/healthy-habits/how-to-put-on-and-remove-a-face-mask/. Accessed 04/08/20.

x. How to Put on and Remove a Face Mask. San Francisco Department of Public Health. https://www.sfcdcp.org/communicable-disease/healthy-habits/how-to-put-on-and-remove-a-face-mask/. Accessed 04/08/20. 

xi. When and how to use masks. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks. Accessed 04/10/20.

xii. When and how to use masks. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks. Accessed 04/10/20.

xiii. N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-and-surgical-masks-face-masks. Accessed 04/08/20.

xiv. When and how to use masks. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks. Accessed 04/10/20.

xv. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.

xvi. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Accessed 04/08/20.