All About Protective Masks

By Lori Hartwell

A myriad of discussions is happening on masks, their shortages and who should wear them, are now in the news and on social media. Remember, not all masks are created equal; different masks are used in different situations.

First, there’s the common soft, blue surgical mask with a little metal strip at the top to bend over the nose. This one is designed to protect the wearer from getting other people sick through the droplets that come from the nose or mouth of whoever wears it. The mask can be folded up and put in a pocket. I did home dialysis for over 10 years and I laugh whenever I see actors on TV wearing one upside down when depicting a healthcare professional. Make sure you put it on correctly.

People on dialysis need to wear a blue surgical disposable mask while connecting to a dialysis machine through a catheter (whether on hemodialysis or peritoneal) to prevent germs from infecting the blood stream or peritoneum. This type of mask does not protect you from the coronavirus. But what it can do is prevent you from touching your nose or mouth when out in public. We often infect ourselves by touching a surface and then touching our face. I’ve heard all kinds of statistics on how often we touch our face, and the one that stood out to me is how on average we do this 16 times per hour. Yikes! I didn’t know I was so vain.

The N95, the one our healthcare professionals wear, is a disposable respirator mask. The “N” in N95 stands for “not resistant to oil.” The “95” indicates that with “worst case” testing the filter is able to capture 95% of the most penetrating particles in the air if worn correctly. Therefore, training on this kind of protective gear, and how to handle it, is necessary. This mask is also worn by people who work with paint, dust and mold, etc. Wearing one isn’t easy. I have worn one and they are hot and not all that pleasant. Make sure to show your appreciation to the healthcare professional who dons this kind of protective gear.

The P100 reusable respirator/gas “p” masks are “oil proof” and thought to be excessive when dealing with a virus.

There are more expensive full-face respirators for those who have a hard time breathing in a regular mask, or who have facial hair and cannot get a good seal with an N95 mask. (Come to think of it, I have never had a surgeon with a beard. It makes sense to me now!)

If I go out in public, I plan to wear a coat with pockets that I can put my hands in to prevent me from touching surfaces. I’ve now learned my hands have a mind of their own and often do things I never expected, like reaching out and touching an elevator button. I need to retrain them. And I carry a small cross-body purse that I don’t have to put down. It gives me access to my phone, small wallet, hand sanitizer, and disposable mask and gloves.

I know this is about the umpteenth time you have heard this, but washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, social distancing, cleaning surfaces frequently and avoiding touching your face is the best way to avoid catching any virus.

According to social media kidney discussion boards, dialysis units have different protocols when it comes to having people on dialysis wear a mask during this virus outbreak. It is up to you to decided whether you should wear a mask during your dialysis treatment if you are not being told to wear one.

We also are facing a shortage of masks and face shields in this country. Wrapping a bandana around your face (like old time stage-coach robbers) to protect spreading your germs when doing a PD exchange is an option. It can also prevent you from touching your nose or moth.

RSN crafty team members went to work to see if we could make our own masks.

See our blog on how to make your own mask. Stay safe everyone and lets do all we can to get through this difficult time.

Learn how to make your own face masks with this do-it-yourself tutorial

Lori hartwell - Renal Support Network - PresidentLori Hartwell is the Founder & President of Renal Support Network (RSN) and the host of KidneyTalk™, a radio podcast show. Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of two. In 1993 she founded RSN to instill “health, happiness and hope” into the lives of those affected by chronic kidney disease. Lori is also the author of the inspirational book Chronically Happy: Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness and is a four-time kidney transplant recipient.

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