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Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are covers made of paper or other non-woven material that are applied over the mouth and nose by doctors and other health workers to reduce risk of contamination from secretions of the mouth and nose in operation room or clinics.

Surgical masks in allergy

Surgical masks are available for use outside the health profession, for example during the SARS epidemic surgical masks were hand out to the public, the idea was to protect people from inhaling human secretions from coughs and sneezing that are suspended in the air. Likewise, surgical masks might be used by allergy sufferers as an added protection against exposure to allergens.

How do surgical masks work?

The material of the mask acts as a filter that prevents large particles from passing  through.While this is effective in holding cough and sneeze droplets, the pores of the material are not small enough to filter the bacteria and viruses themselves, and it cannot protect from chemical contamination by vapors for example. However, for people with hay fever for example, the mask effectively reduces the inhaled pollen, it also reduces exposure to dust mite particles in asthmatic people.

When should allergy sufferers consider using a surgical mask?

Whenever symptoms of allergy occur, wearing a surgical mask can be done as an accessory protection against allergen exposure, together with other measures like removing the allergen if possible from the indoor environment and using medicine. An allergic person with hay fever might use the surgical mask if they wish to leave the house on days with high pollen concentration. Asthma patients might use them whenever they feel they are exposed to dust, pollen or other inhalable allergens.


Submitted on January 16, 2014