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Why you need a N95 Respirator Mask during smoky Fire Conditions

Why you need a N95 Respirator Mask during smoky Fire Conditions

  • Charlie Pankey

Protect Your Health & Lungs With Proper Respirator Protection in the Smoke

With most of the West Coast under poor Air quality from the excessive fire burning all over Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada, it is a great time to remember the importance of N95 respirator masks for personal health.

Wildfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can make you cough and wheeze and can make it hard to breathe. If you have asthma or another lung disease, or heart disease, inhaling wildfire smoke can be especially harmful.

If you cannot leave the smoky area, good ways to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke include staying indoors and reducing physical activity.

Paper masks with one strap and surgical masks will NOT protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. Scarves or bandanas (wet or dry) won't help either. A "particulate respiratormask is much more effective at removing small airborne particles such as those from a fire.

Wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. These masks should be used mostly by people who have to go outdoors.

Will a face mask protect me from wildfire smoke?

Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection – they filter‐out fine particles but not hazardous gases (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein).

  • Choose an N95 or N100 mask that has two straps that go around your head. Don’t choose a one‐strap paper dust mask or a surgical mask that hooks around your ears – these don’t protect against the fine particles in smoke. 
  • Choose a size that fits over your nose and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. These masks don’t come in sizes that fit young children.
  • Don’t use bandanas or towels (wet or dry) or tissue held over the mouth and nose. These may relieve dryness but they won’t protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.


Anyone with lung or heart disease or who is chronically ill should check with their health care provider before using any mask. Using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe, which may make existing medical conditions worse. The extra effort it takes to breathe through a respirator mask can make it uncomfortable to use them for very long. These masks should be used mostly by people who have to go outdoors.

Respirator masks shouldn't be used on young children – they don’t seal well enough to provide protection. They also don’t seal well on people with beards.

How do I use my respirator mask?

  • Place the mask over your nose and under your chin, with one strap placed below the ears and one strap above. Adjust the mask so that air cannot get through at the edges. 
  • Pinch the metal part of the mask tightly over the top of your nose. 
  • The mask fits best on
  • Throw away your mask when breathing through it gets difficult, if it gets damaged, or if the inside gets dirty. Use a new mask each day if you can.
  • It’s harder to breathe through a mask, so take breaks often if you work outside.
  • If you feel dizzy or nauseated, go to a less smoky area, take off your mask, and get medical help if you don’t feel better.

Medical Emergencies can be common during excessive smoke filled conditions. The American Lung Association has a great tips list here for review https://sk.lung.ca/protect-your-lungs/air-quality/forest-fires-and-lung-health-fact-sheet

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