27 February 2020
Face masks have become a more common sight this summer, with bushfire smoke and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) drawing increased attention to their use.
It’s important to understand the different types of face masks and the circumstances when health authorities recommend wearing them.
When air quality is poor, or respiratory illnesses circulate, people with asthma should be aware of the steps they can take to reduce their risk.
A surgical mask does not filter out airborne particles, so is unlikely to help manage air pollution.
If you’re a healthy member of the public in Australia, the Department of Health says you do not need to wear a surgical mask to protect against COVID-19.
Good hygiene is recommended, which includes washing hands often with soap and water, using a tissue and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding close contact with others.
In certain circumstances, surgical masks may help by providing a physical barrier and reducing the wearer from touching their face.
The World Health Organisation says people who have symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, or are taking care of someone who may have COVID-19, should wear a mask.
A P2/ N95 mask, also known as a respirator, is designed to filter out PM2.5 particles but needs to fit properly with an airtight seal to be effective.
If worn correctly, a P2 mask can help to avoid air pollution, however they are difficult to wear all the time and they aren’t suitable for everyone.
People with respiratory conditions should speak with their doctor before using a P2 mask, as they can make it more difficult to breathe.
Find out more: Advice on the use of masks for those exposed to bushfire smoke.
For updated information, visit the Australian Government Department of Health’s COVID-19 health alert
Visit the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 info hub
Read our bushfires and asthma factsheet
Visit NSW Health for more information about P2 masks, including instructions for wearing a mask and conducting a fit check