Face Coverings – A Useful Tool in Infection Prevention
What is a face mask? A face mask (or, “machete mask”) is typically a thick cloth mask worn over either the nose and mouth or over one eye. Face masks can come in a wide variety of materials and use different techniques to help relieve congestion and protect the skin from dirt and other factors. In general, face masks are used to provide temporary treatment of acne, blocked pores or skin breakouts, to relieve swelling and minor irritations, or to provide therapeutic therapy for various conditions. They are generally worn by people with acne, but sometimes even by those without acne.
Typically, a cloth face mask is generally a thin mask made of common synthetic fabric, such as cotton. It can be worn over either the nose and mouth or over one eye. While these masks are sometimes comfortable to wear, some people find that the texture of these masks irritates their skin, particularly the skin around the eyes. In addition, when no other physical distancing is possible, and if masks are often not available when needed, cloth face masks can result in overheating for staff members.
Other face masks include air purifying surgical masks, which are designed to eliminate allergens from the air surrounding the wearer’s nose and mouth. These air purifying surgical masks may contain small particles of plastic or vinyl, which are meant to be ingested by the patient during surgery and then excreted from the body through normal excretion. Although these disposable air purifying surgical masks have been shown to be efficient and have a low incidence of allergic reactions, they do not sanitize the wearer’s nose and mouth, making them undesirable for patients with pre-existing medical conditions. The smallest of these tiny particles could possibly be enough to cause asthmatic reactions. Even when used infrequently and for brief periods of time, surgical masks such as this could still result in airborne particles and bacteria entering the patient’s system and accumulating over time.
Another kind of face mask, popular with patients in the United States, is the anti-static wristband. Wearing a face mask during surgery or other procedure can create a static charge, which can increase the possibility of developing electrocauterization. Electrocauterization is an extremely dangerous condition in which, through direct contact, an electrical current is used to stimulate the nervous system, causing permanent damage to the nerves of the body. Although most health care workers are required to use anti-static wristbands while wearing surgical masks, the risk of electrocauterization remains high, and so this face mask type has become quite common among emergency room patients.
Finally, the final category of face masks to help prevent the entry of infectious organisms. Smokers who frequently struggle with poor air quality in their surgical area might find that using a special breathing mask, called a Hepa Neutralizer, can help reduce infection prevention and improve the quality of patient care. These breathing devices are intended to capture and contain infected respiratory droplets; they are often attached to the patient’s fingertip for easy access.
All of these devices have one important thing in common: they protect the wearer from infection. However, face coverings also play a role in preventing the spread of pathogenic organisms. Smokers who regularly face mask contaminated with lung virus can minimize risk by not smoking. Similarly, persons who regularly wear adhesive caps to hold hair back can limit the spread of folliculitis by limiting the transfer of airborne bacteria. Regular use of such devices may also limit the transfer of hepatitis B and C viruses, although much research is still needed to clarify this last point.