The public is recommended to wear the N95 face mask as a form of protection from the worsening haze currently enveloping parts of the country, said a senior consultant paediatrician.
Datuk Dr Amar Singh said the N95 mask can filter at least 95% of the 0.3-micron particles and is more effective if worn correctly with a good fit to the face of the wearer.
He said the current surgical mask that is being widely used by the public does not actually provide proper protection against the haze.
“The usual three-ply surgical mask (usually green or blue and thicker) cannot filter toxic gases and fine particles of less than 2.5 microns. It may offer some protection against larger particles that irritate, and hence may be useful for some outdoor activities such as biking.
“It is important to recognise that most of the harmful substances in the smoke/smog coming our way consist of toxic gases and very small particles, most under 2.5 microns in size,” he said when contacted by Bernama.
He said analysis of the air suggested that the chemicals that one inhales include ozone, carbon monoxide, cyanide, ammonia, formaldehyde, acrolein and benzene, some with long-term carcinogenic effects.
“The ultra-fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 microns or less) often lodge deep in the lungs and have short and long-term effects on cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases,” he said.
“However, N95 masks are uncomfortable to use for long period of time as they increase the effort it takes to breathe and reduce the volume of air.
“There was a recent suggestion to keep a small window in the mask to help children breathe easier, but this will defeat its function. The N95 mask is not that cheap as it doesn’t need to be changed periodically,” he said.
The surgical mask, on the other hand, needs to be changed very often as it lasts at best only 30 to 60 minutes, or before it gets compromised by the user’s cough or sneeze, he explained.
Dr Amar Singh also said the use of fabric mask was not recommended for haze protection, but many were using it because it is cheaper and could be washed and reused.
“A number of studies have shown that fabric masks are largely ineffective for 2.5 microns and below and they retain moisture (get wet) easily and increase your risk of getting an infection,” he said.
Meanwhile, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said although the N95 mask is the most effective to use during the haze, it was not designed for children.
“Men with a beard will also find it difficult to wear the mask,” he said in a statement.
He said the three-ply surgical mask can be used in the absence of the N95, as opposed to not wearing any protection at all during outdoor activities.
Exposure to the very unhealthy haze can lead to symptoms of asthma, cough, eye irritation and even lung infections.
As such, Dr Noor Hisham urged the public to stay up to date on the haze situation and to check the air pollutant index (API) readings at their localities on the Department of Environment’s portal, http://apims.doe.gov.my/.
Further information on the health effects and preventive measures against the transboundary haze is available at http://www.moh.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/183.