This really is our reality. As a person who covers health, I should have known better. I should have purchased the masks last year, or the year before when smog entered our homes, our cribs and our children’s lungs. But one lives in denial. One hopes that while we battle on various fronts we can see, we can take our right to breathe for granted.
But I digress.
As smog tightened its grip on Delhi, I spent a few hours staring at various e-commerce sites and talking to our tech editor to decipher what type of mask I should buy for myself and my children — who according to the World Health Organisation are already functioning on compromised lungs.
And now I am ready to share that knowledge with you (This when doctors say there really is no good time to be outside):
Before we start, throw away your surgical mask. That Rs 5 mask does nothing to protect you. Neither will a hanky tied around your nose or a duppatta to cover your face.
While buying a mask, look for those with N95, N99 or P95-100 rating that’s given by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The European equivalent to the NIOSH certification is EN149 FFP2.
N95 masks are the most basic you'll need to protect yourself. A 95 code means they can filter up to 95 percent of the harmful PM 2.5 fine particulate matter that is the major cause of ailments in your body.
These come in different models. You get disposable ones without the valve that you can use and let go of.
And then there are masks with air valves that can direct the exhaled air out via a dedicated passage. This ensures there is no excess moisture and fogging near the nose-bridge and eyes.
All varieties are easily available online (with heavy discounts) and with chemists. 3M is a popular brand in this category.
Rs 100 for a single piece (Online price)
Rs 700 for a pack of 10 (Online price)
N99 basically denotes that this mask will filter out 99 percent of 2.5 fine particulate matter. But just like the N95 air masks, these are also not resistant to oil and oil-based pollutants. These again come in varieties that are disposable and non disposable. With single and double valves.
Now double valve masks are more suitable for active runners, athletes and cyclists who inhale three times more air when in midst of activity.
Those colourful masks you see kids wearing to school are available online from companies like Cambridge and Vog. They come in different sizes and it’s easier to convince your child to put these on. They are also washable, but they are not cheap by any measure.
Rs 175 for a single piece
Rs 2000 for a designer mask
An R or P rating basically means these masks also remove oil based pollutants that N rated masks don’t. You don’t really need to invest in these masks that can cost upwards of Rs 10,000 for a packet of 10.
Once you’ve decided on the brand, make sure you buy the right size. It’s important that the mask fits you well and no outside air comes in via gaps.
Also, remember you can wear masks only for short periods when outside. Thick masks restrict breathing, specially in children.
Masks are only stop-gap measures. While you get pollution geared, petition your government, your courts to take concrete steps to bring down the pollution levels and work to reduce your own carbon footprint. You don’t want to spend the next three years buying colourful masks for your children while denying them their right to breathe.
(Breathe In, Breathe Out: Are you finding it tough to breathe polluted air? Join hands with FIT to find #PollutionKaSolution. Send in your suggestions to email@example.com or WhatsApp @+919999008335)