From the Studio of Dr. Toni Harrison, MD - How To Properly Wear a Surgical Mask

Hi Everyone, I wanted to go over how to wear a surgical mask because it's not always really obvious, and I see a lot of people wearing them wrong, especially now that we're seeing it more commonly. So many people are walking around wearing masks, but even within the hospital, I often see people wearing their surgical mask incorrectly, so this is a good refresher if nothing else.

A surgical mask, the overall basic function is that you breathe through it to protect you from bacteria, viruses, dirt, etc -  it seems pretty obvious. If you're breathing around it, then the mask is doing you no good, it's giving you a false sense of assurance and you might as well just take it off. It's not doing anything and you're just pretending to be ‘safer’. But really there's two functions to a surgical face mask. One is to prevent us from being exposed to whatever the patient has, like if I'm taking care of a patient that's got tuberculosis, I don't want to inhale that agent into my lungs. But it also protects the patient from whatever pathogens I have; it’s Bi-Directional. I'm protecting the people that are in my surroundings, but I am also protecting myself from those people in my surroundings; kind of something to think about there.

Most face masks have a metal bar, any surgical face mask, not just the N95s, they probably have a metal bar. The purpose of the metal bar is to pinch your nose, you're trying to prevent the airflow from coming above the mask. So if you put on your face mask, and then you put on your glasses and your glasses are fogging up, then your face mask is doing you no good, because the air's coming up into your glasses and that vapor is fogging it up. That's a clear sign that your face mask is not fitting properly. The other areas that are concerning, not necessarily in the N95, because it should have a tight fit, but in the normal surgical mask that you've probably seen on the TV or movies or whenever you've had surgery. You don't want any gaping at the sides or underneath, and I see that all the time. Because then, you're just breathing out the sides or underneath, and the reason is, is because it's uncomfortable sometimes to breathe through the mask, it feels like your breathing is being restrained. Again, that's the whole point of the face mask, you're supposed to be breathing through it and not out the sides.

There are two straps normally on face masks. One is supposed to sit below your ears, kind of at the base of your head, the nape of your neck. The other one is supposed to fit across the crown of your head. That's another error that I see people making is that their face straps are not situated appropriately, one goes up high and one's got to be up-down below your ears, and then you make sure that you've got it snug everywhere.

The next issue is: how do you remove it? Let's assume that you truly have been exposed to Coronavirus infected people, right? If that's true, then Coronavirus has collected on the outside of your mask here. So if you take it off and just manhandle it, your hands now are covered with Coronavirus. So you need to make sure that you wash your hands after taking off your mask and if you've got Purell or some other hand sanitizer, that's the perfect time. Or you can use gloves, take off the mask, throw out your gloves, I would still wash your hands, I mean, that's who I am.


Washing your hands with regular soap and water is the best protection you've got with Coronavirus. Another thing to do to protect yourself from Coronavirus is tie up your hair. If you've got longer hair, the wisps of your hair brush across your face and it kind of itches a little bit and so that's where people, a lot of times, are touching their face and not really aware that they're touching their face. So wearing a ponytail can be a great thing right now.


I got my N95 mask just two days ago, so I am pretty dang excited about it. These are like gold around the hospital. Unfortunately, in the American healthcare system, we don't have enough supplies for our healthcare workers. So if you use these in your workplace and you're not a healthcare worker, it would be so kind of you to drop these off at a hospital so that the healthcare workers can be protected, because we're in dire needs of them. Speaking of the N95 specifically, these masks that have the, what does it say it on this one right here, the N95 marking on them. These only last for eight hours. You cannot wear them time after time after time after time, they only last for eight hours. Because the moisture from your breath collects in the mask and then it makes the mask inefficient. So they only last eight hours, don't pretend this is going to last you six months, it's not.


I think that about covers everything that I wanted to talk about today. So just helpful tips on how to wear a surgical mask. I know it seems pretty straightforward and how could you screw it up? But it's one of those simple things that people don't think about, and then when you point it out, they go, "Of course, I just didn't think about it that way." So make sure you're breathing through the mask and not around the mask.  

And I hope you're having a great day and stay healthy!

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