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How to Use Face Masks to Protect Against Infection

Surgical masks and N95 masks lower the risk of spreading germs that cause infections. They do this by blocking respiratory particles in the air. 

If you are infected, wearing a mask protects others. Particles do not travel through the air as easily when you breathe, cough, sneeze, or talk while wearing a mask. 

If you wear a mask while an infected person is nearby, your mask protects you. A mask helps keep particles from reaching your nose, mouth, and lungs. 

To be most effective, a mask should: 

  • Be made of material that keeps particles from passing through  
  • Fit close to the face without big gaps 
  • Cover your face from nose to chin 

Change a face mask often. Also change a mask when it is wet or dirty. 

N95 masks 

N95 or KN95 masks are the most effective face mask when used properly. They fit close to the face and can filter small virus particles. You might hear these masks called "duck-bill masks." 

N95 masks are for medical providers and other workers who need extra protection against particles in the air. If your child has a weak immune system, your care team might tell your child to wear an N95 face mask to protect against germs, mold, viruses, and bacteria.  

Types of N95 masks

Your child should wear an N95 face mask if they have a weak immune system. Always follow the instructions given by your care team to prevent infections.

Surgical masks 

For general wear, a surgical mask is a good choice. Standard surgical masks are made of 3 layers: 

  • An outer layer that blocks water and fluid 
  • A middle layer that stops particles from passing through 
  • An inner layer that traps the user's fluids 

Together, these layers provide a barrier to reduce the spread of infections. If possible, you should only use masks given to you by your health care provider. Some masks sold in stores or online are counterfeit (fake) and do not provide enough protection. Do not use cloth masks. 

Surgical mask layers

Surgical masks are usually made of 3 layers that help form a barrier to protect against the spread of germs.


  • Choose an N95 or surgical mask that is approved by your child's care team. 
  • Be sure the mask has a snug fit. The mask should cover your face from nose to chin. 
  • If your child has a weak immune system, an N95 mask offers the best protection. 

Reviewed: September 2022