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Face Masks Can Help Filter Out Bad Air – If Worn Correctly

(KPIX 5) -- People have been lining up at hardware stores and other locations in the Bay Area to snap up face masks to minimize their intake of unhealthy air. But the N95 respirators, so called because of their ability to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles, need to fit well in order to work.

Some people use one instead of two straps because they are uncomfortable. But doctors are saying that's a big no-no, and say use both straps, pinch the metal on top of the nose, and try to seal the mask around the face. If it's done right, there should be no gaps.

"We're supposed to breathe in oxygen and nitrogen. Now you also have this particulate matter that your lungs do not like. And once you breathe those chemical irritants in, they're distributed throughout your body," said Dr. Desmond Carson, Medical Director for wellness center LifeLong Medical Care. "Those irritants are not supposed to be in your body and that's why people get headaches."

Unfortunately, most N95 masks are made for adults. It's really hard to find masks that will fit little kids. Some clinics are offering a type of mask to kids, but it's not N95. Doctors say the bottom line is it's best to stay inside.

One other problem, it can also be difficult to put a standard N95 mask on someone with a lot of facial hair. Doctors recommend shave it down or shave it off.

Many places in the Bay Area were giving out free masks Friday, but they're running out quickly.

Agencies also note the masks may give people a false sense of security, and recommend staying indoors.

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