Smog in the city? Which mask to wear?

In many areas of the world, taking a deep breath of air can be unhealthy and dangerous. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution is responsible for about 6.5 million premature — or early — deaths every year. It estimates that nearly 600,000 of those who die are young children, under the age of five. Most of these deaths, WHO officials say, happen in developing countries.

With all this pollution in the air, many people try to protect themselves and reduce their exposure. So, some people use face masks.

People who wear the more expensive and properly fitting N95 variety of mask (known as respirators) are protected rather well, however these masks make breathing more difficult and therefore may not be recommended for children, elderly, or people with respiratory disease. Wearing N95 masks will provide effective protection against PM2.5 but ensure wearing the mask correctly with a tight seal around the face. N95 masks can be purchased in pharmacies and can be used multiple times. Only when it’s hard to breathe while wearing, you should dispose it and buy a new one.

But also some cheaper masks work well. The thickness of the material seems to play an important role. The thicker is the material, the better protection against the air pollutants can be ensured. However, the most important rule for any mask is that no matter how much you pay, it only works if it fits snugly on your face.

Surgical masks, originally intended to protect the patient and not the surgeon wearing the mask, are made out of paper and also perform surprisingly well. Even though these paper masks do not fit snugly to the face, they do get stuck against the wearer’s wet mouth, providing appropriate protection. However during the most polluted hours of the day, try to stay indoors, which is normally from dawn till dusk. Do also less physical activities outdoors.