An emergency medical face mask, also called a facial protective mask, is designed to be worn by medical staff during emergency healthcare processes. Emergency healthcare workers and other health care workers who may work with or near blood, surgical, and other trauma cases need to wear masks to protect their health. Medical masks are designed to keep nasal cavities clear of blood, allowing breathing through the nose to be easier in times of severe respiratory distress or emergency. Medical masks also are designed to prevent the spread of infections by capturing airborne particles and liquid droplets shed from the patient’s mouth and nose and shed in the air.
The different types of face masks available for emergency medical use are generally categorized according to the level of protection they offer. Level I masks are used to prevent the entry of airborne pathogens into the patient’s respiratory system. These masks generally have either a full-face design with multiple openings, or a nose-and-mouth mask design, with one open mouth design. Level I masks are often used in drug therapy clinics where patients take medications that could infect other patients should they be using a unisex mask.
Level II face masks are designed to at least partially contain blood or fluid, but will prevent contamination of the rest of the patient’s body. These masks should at least contain a biological agent to kill any remaining bacteria in the mouth and nose after a blood transfusion. Level II face masks can also be used to prevent transmission of bloodborne pathogens through respiration. These masks should have a low biohazard factor, which means the amount of virus or disease spread possible would be minimal if not avoided.
Level III face protection is designed to protect the eyes while the patient is under a surgical procedure. Masks in this level do not offer complete protection and should only be used during the procedure. This level III masks should still have some form of bloodborne disease prevention. Any mask with a reduced biohazard factor should be used for the procedure, and all of them should be worn while the surgical patient is under general anesthesia. General anesthesia requires that the surgical patient remain in a reclined position for the duration of the procedure.
When choosing which face mask to use during a surgical procedure, it is important to consider the anatomy of the face and how the mask fits. Each surgeon will design a unique face mask for a particular patient. Face masks used during cardiothoracic surgery will need to fit tightly to avoid bleeding and discomfort, while a nose and mouth mask should fit well to prevent contamination. Since different types of face and nose masks will be required for different procedures, it is important to discuss which type of mask will be required before beginning the procedure.
Once the patient has completed their surgical procedure, a new disposable face mask should be used until the patient is free of sutures and is able to return to their regular surgical routine. Alternatively, if the patient is using an AED, the current mask should be replaced after several minutes. This ensures that the new mask does not have any leakage and that all risks associated with previous or second-hand masks have been eliminated.