You probably haven’t been looking for additional opportunities to wear a mask, but now that we are used to having them at hand it’s worth noting there are activities when donning a mask can protect your lungs.
“Beyond COVID-19 concerns, there are some situations where it makes sense to wear a mask,” says Tomer Pelleg, DO, an intensivist and pulmonologist with Samaritan Medical Group Pulmonology – Corvallis. “Wearing a mask can help protect your lungs, which is important for everyone and especially those with underlying lung disease.”
So when is it a good idea to wear a mask? Dr. Pelleg outlines some reasons to keep a small supply of masks handy.
Air Quality Concerns
When air quality is poor, like during wildfire season, Dr. Pelleg recommends wearing a mask outdoors when the air quality index is above 100. You can find the air quality index on your smartphone weather app or a weather website like accuweather.com. He recommends an N95 mask as the best filter to protect the lungs from particles that can cause inflammation.
Some hobbies like jewelry-making or metal-working create harmful fumes and particulates while soldering metal. Work outdoors, in the garage with the doors open or in a space with ventilation that sucks fumes and particulates out of your workshop. Dr. Pelleg also recommends an N95 mask or personal respirator while you are working. However, remember that the mask protects you only while you are wearing it. If you don’t have adequate ventilation in your workspace, the tiny particles can settle like dust on surfaces and be stirred up into the air again where you could potentially breathe them in.
If you use a paint gun for projects around the home or on your cars, it’s a good idea to wear a respirator, which filters out fine particulates and chemical fumes. Dr. Pelleg notes that paint primer is especially toxic. Work on your project in a place with good ventilation, preferably outdoors or in the garage with the doors open. If you are worried about small pieces of dust that can create an uneven finish on your project, you’ll likely need to install ventilation equipment in your workspace that can remove particulates and fumes. If you are using paint or lacquer with a brush or from a small shakeable spray can, a mask isn’t necessary.
Home Mold Repair
If you’ve had water damage to your home that resulted in mold, it’s a good idea to wear a mask during cleanup, especially if you have underlying lung conditions. An N95 mask will offer sufficient protection.
Your deep cleaning may or may not occur in the spring, but if your activities stir up a lot of dust or you’re using heavy duty solvents, then a mask can help protect your lungs from irritation. A simple surgical or cloth mask is fine since most home-use products can be applied directly to the object you’re cleaning and are not aerosolized. According to Dr. Pelleg, grout and oven cleaners are some of the more irritating formulas.
Those who suffer at various times of the year from pollen or mold can have a hard time with outdoor chores like mowing, or raking leaves, or trimming ivy (where months of pollen and other allergens can collect). An N95 mask will give you excellent protection, but a simple cloth or surgical mask will also help if that’s all you have on hand.
“Masks are readily available and most people are now used to wearing them,” says Dr. Pelleg. “If you’ve had trouble doing projects in the past because of lung irritation, a mask can protect your lungs and make you more comfortable.”
Learn how you can feel more comfortable wearing a mask.
Samaritan Medical Group Pulmonology - Corvallis helps people with chronic lung conditions like asthma and COPD. Talk to your primary care provider for a referral if you struggle to keep your condition under control.