August 24, 2018 7:57 pm
Updated: August 24, 2018 8:58 pm

To mask or not to mask: Not all facemasks give similar protection, experts say


A lot of people in the Okanagan have taken to wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke in the air.

For the past two weeks, air quality levels have fluctuated between moderate and severe.

READ MORE: Air quality level at 10-plus in smoke-filled Okanagan; Apple Triathlon cancels Saturday’s races

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Several outdoor events, such as the Apple Triathlon in Kelowna, the Super League Triathlon in Penticton, university soccer games in Kamloops and Kelowna, and Kelowna’s Dragon Boat Festival were cancelled due to the poor air quality this summer.

According to Interior Health, respirator masks do provide some protection from smoky air, as long as they are NIOSH-approved and labeled N95.

They do protect lungs from airborne particulates, but they can’t filter out hazardous gases in smoke such as carbon monoxide.

READ MORE: Thick smoke to smother the Okanagan again this weekend

Paper surgical masks, meanwhile, offer no protection from smoke at all.

WATCH: Thick smoke continues to blanket the Okanagan, creating bad air quality and poor visibility

Another thing people should know is that the masks themselves can labour breathing.

“So if you choose to do this, you need to be careful because if you have a respiratory condition, and now it’s harder to breathe through the mask, this may cause more harm than good,” said medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison.

And how the mask is worn is also important.

“These have to be specifically fitted, so if you wear this mask and it doesn’t fit your face properly, there’s no point,” Goodison said.

During times of poor air quality, Interior Health continues to recommend finding cleaner air spaces in public buildings, purchasing a HEPA filter for your home, and reducing outdoor activities.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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