Dissecting the N95 Respirator: What it Means

The N95 respirator is a commonplace piece of equipment for many people in the healthcare community. But just what exactly does this N95 stand for? 

For starters, a respirator is a piece of personal protective equipment that is a requirement when treating people with diseases such as TB and SARS. A respirator is worn to protect the worker from the patient, such as one would wear gloves. Do not get the N95 confused with face masks. A face mask is similar to an N95 only in that it provides a degree of protection between the wearer and the environment. The level of protection is lesser on the face mask however, as face masks are loose-fitting, and will not provide a seal between mask and skin, like the N95 does. This higher level of protection only holds up if you receive proper fitting of an N95 however. Hence, the mask fit test

The N portion of N95 stands for ‘not’. An N95 respirator is not resistant to oil. There are other respirators with different designations, like the R and P ratings. R ratings are oil resistant, whereas P ratings mean the respirator is oil proof. 

The 95 portion of the title means the respirator is ’95% or greater filtration efficient against particulate aerosols (droplets 0.3 microns in diameter)’. Now what does this really mean you ask? This means that an N95 respirator will, when properly worn, protect the wearer from 95% of particles that are very small – down to 0.3 microns -in size. 

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