Medical Face Mask Key Terms

Learn key terms about medical face masks

Medical face masks, or surgical masks, are the primary defense against bacteria, fluids and other pathogens that can be either inhaled or come in contact with the membranes of the nose and mouth. Masks are typically designed to cover both the mouth and the nose loosely, but snug enough to be protective. While all medical face masks may look the same (tied around the head or able to bend at the nose), they are not created the same. There are differences in protection levels and how they are designed to fit. Knowing some medical face mask key terms can help you select the appropriate face mask for your area of need.

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is anything that can be used to protect the wearer against sickness or injury while wearing it. For the health care industry, a PPE protects not only the wearer from infection or bodily fluid contamination, but also protects patients from contamination from the wearer.
Center for Devices and Radiological Health to find information on buying, using, disposing of and cleaning personal protective equipment.

Particulate respirator

A particulate respirator is a type of air purifying respirator. This type of disposable respirator works to filter out particles from the air. Particulate respirators vary in strength and the resistance to oil.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists each of the nine types of particulate respirators and a brief description of the attributes of each.

Bacterial filtration efficiency

Tests to measure the bacterial filtration efficiency, or BFE, are performed on medical face masks. What the test measures is how much of a sprayed airborne pathogen is able to make it through the face mask.
Nelson Laboratories to find out more on the tests performed to test bacterial filtration efficiency.

N95 medical masks

The N95 medical mask is the most widely used face mask. It filters out 95-percent of airborne particles and is commonly used in surgical, medical and dental procedures. This mask can also protect from allergens, which is why people like to wear them when doing yard work.

Ear loop

The ear loop is one of the ways the mask attaches to the head of the wearer. In this case, there are two cotton elastic loops on each side of the mask that go behind the ears to secure the mask to the face.
Superior Gloves' Synergy Dental website to see what a medical face mask with an ear loop looks like. BFE ratings  are also supplied for the mask.


Another way to secure the medical face mask to the wearer is by a tie-on. This is normally four cotton strings, with two on each side of the mask, that tie behind the head of the wearer.

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