How to choose the right mask to protect yourself from the haze

What kind of masks should I purchase, and where are these available?

Only respirator masks (i.e. N95 or equivalent) are effective in filtering out the fine particles that are produced during haze episodes.

Surgical masks are of no use, and offer a false sense of security.

The respirator masks are available in commercial pharmacies and Singhealth/NHG polyclinics.

Dr Gregory Leong of Shenton Family Medical Clinic told My Paper that surgical masks are meant more to keep saliva and mucus from the wearer from contaminating others, and not to protect the wearer.

N95 masks, which filter out 95 per cent of very fine particles and have an airtight seal, are more effective, he said.

Dr Alvin Wong of Well Family Clinic and Surgery said surgical masks can keep out droplets from coughing and sneezing. "But haze particles are very fine. They can still make their way through a mask's top, bottom and sides, so it's not going to do much good," he said.

Are surgical masks useful?

For those who are healthy and would just like to use a surgical mask, they can do so, but if you are pregnant, a child, an elderly or have respiratory conditions, please use an N95 mask instead.

Is the N95 mask an adequate protection against the haze? Does it protect against PM2.5?

N95 masks are designed to be sealed against the face of the wearer. This way, most of the air that the wearer breathes in has to go through the filter and not through the gaps between the mask and the wearer's face. Haze particles are predominantly made up of fine particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5). Studies have shown that N95 masks do provide good protection against the haze as they are at least 95 per cent efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 - 0.3 microns. It is even more efficient (99.5 per cent efficient) against particles that are 0.75 microns and larger.

When do I need to wear an N95 mask?

The N95 mask is necessary for individuals who are susceptible to the impact of haze, including persons with chronic medical conditions especially lung or heart disease, elderly, and pregnant women. These individuals should wear N95 masks if they plan to undertake prolonged outdoor activity when the air quality is poor.

Healthy persons who have to undertake prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity should also consider using an N95 mask when the air quality is poor. Please refer to NEA's daily health advisory for specific guidance.

How do I get a mask? Is there a shortage of N95 masks?

Singapore has sufficient supplies of N95 masks nationally to meet anticipated demand. People should only buy N95 masks when required. There is no need to stockpile.

MOH has worked with manufacturers and suppliers to bring in and supply more N95 masks to our local retailers and pharmacies such as Guardian, Unity, Giant and Cold Storage. This would ensure that masks are available to the public.

As of the afternoon of 20 June 2013, there have been 7,000 and 21,000 N95 masks that have been distributed to Unity and Guardian respectively.

In addition, the public could also purchase N95 masks from the retail pharmacy outlets at the restructured hospitals (i.e., Alexandra Hospital, Changi General Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, National University Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital), specialist centres (i.e., National Cancer Centre, National Heart Centre, National Skin Centre, Singapore National Eye Centre), and polyclinics (i.e., Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Clementi, Hougang, Jurong, Toa Payoh, Woodlands, Yishun).

Employers who have difficulty purchasing N95 masks for their workers engaged in outdoor work can call MOM at 6438 5122.

What is the recommended frequency for changing of masks?

A mask should be changed when it gets soiled or distorted in shape.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that there is sufficient stock of N95 masks nationally to meet anticipated needs.

Therefore, N95 masks should be bought only when needed, there is no need to stockpile.

The large retail/pharmacy chains (Guardian, Unity, Cold Storage and Giant) have N95 masks available for purchase on their shelves.

Can I reuse my N95 mask?

You can reuse your N95 mask but it should be replaced when it gets soiled or distorted in shape. It should not be shared.

What about children? Children's N95 masks are not available

N95 masks are not designed for use on children or people with facial hair (e.g. beards), because it is difficult to achieve a proper fit, since these masks are designed to seal to the wearer's face. Children should therefore minimize outdoor activity at PSI levels above 100, and avoid all outdoor activity if 24-hour PSI levels reach higher than 300.

How do I wear a mask?

Information from the Ministry of Health website and  Emergency 101, a one-stop information portal for emergency information.

For more haze updates from AsiaOne, click here: