I have an irrational fear of falling into an ice-covered lake, being trapped, and drowning. I can easily imagine that feeling of slowly suffocating and being helpless to stop it. When I’ve had to wear a face mask, I get the same feeling, and I really, really don’t like it.
A lot of us have face masks in our survival/emergency kits and plan to use them in case of a fire, an epidemic, or some other crisis that makes breathing either difficult or dangerous, but have you ever actually worn one of those face masks for an extended period of time? Well, it’s not a lot of fun. There is that feeling of semi-suffocation and it’s not comfortable at all.
One of my readers, Maureen, had to wear a face mask recently and suggested this tip: start getting some practice wearing a mask so you’ll be better prepared when it becomes necessary. I think that’s a great suggestion. Face masks can be quite uncomfortable, especially in heat and humidity.
So which types of masks should you buy and practice wearing?
At the lowest level is the inexpensive dust mask sold by home improvement stores. When my husband has to work in attics, he always wears one of these to avoid breathing dust, insulation, pollen, and other stuff in the air. He’s told me the masks get really hot, dirty, and sometimes they absorb so much sweat that it stops the air flow. These masks are disposable and don’t protect you from very small particles. Even though they are lightweight, they still take some getting used to.
A step above the dust mask are particulate respirators, an N95 or higher. These are also inexpensive but are designed to give you more protection from microscopic particles in the air. They can be slightly fitted to the face but won’t work very well if you have a mustache or beard. This is the type of mask that was recommended back during the swine flu scare a few years ago. However, there are better choices that will give you more protection from viruses.
By the way, during various flu scares, the FDA has recommended these respirators:
- 3M Particulate Respirator 8670F
- 3M Particulate Respirator 8612F
- Pasture Tm F550G Respirator
- Pasture Tm A520G Respirator
Moving up the scale, you’ll find heavy-duty respirators sometimes worn by painters and other workers who come in contact with lead, asbestos, pesticides, and some airborne viruses. These aren’t as expensive as you might think, ranging in the $20-30 range. They definitely give you more breathing protection but leave the rest of your face exposed. A good pair of goggles will protect your eyes, and should be a part of an emergency kit anyways.
An excellent, affordable, lightweight option
I recently learned about the Readi-Mask and promptly bought four of them for my family. It’s super easy to put on and protects your eyes with a medical adhesive seal as well as providing breathing protection. These are lightweight and so easy to put on, even for kids, although you’ll need to make sure the mask is completely sealed around their mouth, nose, and eyes.
Another lightweight version is the ZWZCYZ fabric mask. I purchased one of these so I could make a DIY version of a face mask with eye protection. It doesn’t have the same filtering capabilities of the Readi-Mask.
Think about where you might be when a fire breaks out and keep these masks in those locations. Suggestions: in your glove box (car fire, driving through a wildfire area, etc.), emergency kits, and bedside table.
What about a gas mask?
Finally, gas masks. I get a lot of questions about gas masks and whether or not they are worth the purchase. Gas masks can be purchased online, including Amazon, for under $30 each. Like a lot of emergency equipment, it can’t hurt to have one of these for each member of the family since they are so affordable. The kids’ version is about twenty bucks.
Frankly, I think the worst thing about gas masks is their appearance. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I’m sure you remember, “The Empty Child” episode! (Still gives me the creeps.) However, an Israeli civilian gas mask runs under $30 on Amazon and for the money, you are protected from nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) elements.
A very important fact to know about the Israeli civilian mask is that the filter is good for a limited amount of time. Some filters are only good for about 15 minutes. That gives Israeli citizens time to get to the nearest bomb shelter, theoretically. Plan on using this mask strategically or look for filters that fit the mask but have a longer filter life.
There are valid reasons for buying gas mask, especially if you live near a nuclear power plant. I’m not paranoid where nuclear power is concerned, but the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan taught me to be a little more wary, which is why we now own potassium iodide tablets and have taken other precautions, just in case. (We live about 40-50 miles from a nuclear power plant.)
A family of 4 will spend $120 or so for inexpensive Israeli gas masks. I’d say this falls in the category of, “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
If the thought of buying gas masks freaks you out completely, I understand! A good quality respirator will meet your needs in all but the most extreme events. Whatever you buy, do wear it for at least an hour and have the kids practice wearing them, too. When all hell is breaking loose and the adrenaline is racing through your system is not the time to put on a face mask for the first time!
So which masks should you buy? I’d skip the dust mask. It’s pretty useless except for short-term use when the main issue is dust and pollen. For not much more money, you can get a higher quality N95 mask, and in that case, I’d recommend the Readi-Mask, although it’s a one-time use only item.
Gas masks? That’s up to you and your assessment of potential risks. They would come in handy in far more emergencies than just the Big Three: Nuclear, Biological, Chemical.
Do you have experience with using any of these types of masks? Do you have a particular brand to recommend?
THIS ARTICLE IS AN UPDATE.