IV. Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Q: HOW long can I use my respirator before I must discard it?

A: In the health-care setting the filter material used in respirators may remain functional for weeks to months. Respirators with replaceable filters are reusable, and a respirator classified as disposable may be reused by the same health-care worker as long as it remains functional.

Before each use, the outside of the filter material should be inspected. If the filter material is physically damaged or soiled, the filter should be changed (in the case of respirators with replaceable filters) or the respirator discarded (in the case of disposable respirators). Your department should coordinate with Environmental health & Safety department to develop standard operating procedures for storing, reusing, and disposing of respirators that have been designated as disposable and for disposing of replaceable filter elements.

Q: HOW do I store my respirator?

A: Respirators should be labeled for each worker and stored so that physical damage to the respirator is avoided. A good method is to place them in individual storage bins. Keep in mind that respirator facepieces will become distorted and the straps will lose their elasticity if hung on a peg for a long period of time. Check for these problems before each use.

Storing the respirator in a plastic sealable bag after use is not considered a good practice. The respirator may be damp after use and sealing prevents drying and encourages microbial growth. If plastic bags are used, respirators should be allowed to dry before storage. A bad practice is storing respirators in "fanny packs." Respirators can be crushed during work activities.

Q: HOW do I disinfect my respirator?

A: Disposable respirators cannot be disinfected. Therefore, they can only be assigned for use to a single individual. Instead, each respirator should be examined between each use. A respirator should be discarded if it is crushed or visibly soiled (such as after performing a procedure where spattering has taken place).

Q: I find it difficult to talk with the patient or my coworkers when wearing my respirator. WHAT can I do?

A: Some respirators may interfere with speech more than others. Ask your department administrator if there are alternatives.

Q: I have a very small face and had trouble being fit tested for a respirator. WHAT can I do?

A: Some manufacturers have up to three different sizes. Respirators may also vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer. You may be able to get a better fit by trying a respirator made by another manufacturer. Environmental Health & Safety department can help you find a suitable respirator.

Q: I have a beard or moustache. IS my respirator still effective?

A: Facial hair that lies along the sealing area of the respirator, such as beards, sideburns, moustaches, or even a few days growth of stubble interferes with the fit of the respirator to your face and allows infectious bacteria into your breathing air, and greatly reduces protection. Respirators that do not rely on a tight face seal, such as loose-fitting PAPRs, may offer better protection.

Q: I get a rash when I wear my disposable HEPA respirator with a latex seal. HOW can I prevent this?

A: You might have an allergy or sensitivity to the latex or its additives used in the manufacture of some respirators. Changing to a respirator using a silicone-based compound for the face seal, or a respirator that doesn't have a face seal (like a hooded PAPR) may solve the problem. Discuss with your supervisor and consult EH&S for help in finding a respirator that does not cause this problem.

Q: WHAT kind of respirator should I wear during operative procedures on patients with known or suspected infectious aerosol agent?

A: Respirators with exhalation valves and positive-pressure respirators do not protect the sterile field; therefore, a respirator that does not have a valve should be used, or alternative procedures should be developed.

Q: My respirator became dislodged while I was caring for a disoriented patient who is potentially contagious. WHAT should I do?

A: Reposition your respirator as soon as possible. If you think you were exposed to contagious agent, you should report this exposure to your supervisor or employee health personnel, who will decide what follow-up is required.