Before you ask not a quote from the “Heroes” star or the road cycilist, but the English Elizabethan dramatist , but still stands very true in many walks of life. This time though I am going to blog about something that I have been asked to, my masks.
Now please excuse the (un)glamorous no-makeup look, but news flash ** I am human** and often look like rubbish.
It is purely there to show you one of the MANY masks I wear depending on what I am doing, what the day is and well… pretty much my mood.
Like a lot of people with a breathing condition it isn’t always as simple as “just breathe”, even IF my lungs are behaving that day, anything could happen to ensure they decided this day will be the one they break again. It is even harder when you are allergic or hypersensitive to so many elements, you live in a city and well last you checked you couldn’t control everything around you.
My hyper airways can even react when I am sat in a hospital bed, sitting at home, in the office, so imagine the dangers of going outside. In fact to have any kind of normal life it have to almost ensure that I live in a bubble. We all know EVERY asthmatic is different just as every person is different. What I have found is that even without a medical issue with your lungs a lot of people struggle with air quality, which means I think the use of face masks will become more and more.
For me I have toe be careful for the majority of well known triggers of asthma (shown below), now a trigger doesn’t always mean that it will cause an attack, it can be a combining factor to a build up to one, worsen one that was going to happen anyway, or cause one. It has long been studied and reports can be found at a touch of a google search, the only thing that is certain, the more rubbish you breath in, the worse condition your lungs will be asthma or no asthma.
For me, it is all the above, I have been known to step outside without a mask, walk 10 steps to the car and BOOM! I am in Resus. Due to that very reason I rarely leave the house without a filtration mask.
I can admit wearing a mask can seem a little scary, it does get a lot of attention and some of it negative, you are looked at as if you could/would cause someone harm, that you have something that could make someone sick or mainly like you are a complete freak. I am lucky to have traveled and lived around the globe, so I am used to wearing them a little more, but if you suffer with anxiety, it is really wise to get used to wearing it with someone with you. I have often posted a status update about a person that felt the need to poke fun at me/my mask which on some days reduced me to tears.
That said, we cant change how other people act and we should not let this stop us having a life. We do need to reeducate people when we can, to deal with the negative I smile a lot with me eyes, forcing my self to have eye contact which is not something I like to do. If I can and a child is a little freaked out I will remove it for a minute, we survived without them, a minute wont hurt. I take time to explain why I need it, that my lungs are broken and that it helps keep them safe. When I enter a building where it would be wise to, I REMOVE IT. There is no reason to cause alarm paying in a £5 cheque to prove a point. I also often have to meet people and I will take my mask of to say hello and put it back on. You cannot wear it all the time, there will be times it is not appropriate, I am often in meetings with clients etc, At the end of the day, this is to aide my health, it is a tool I can use like air filters at home, you can however not control the world 100% or the time.
There are a lot of different types of face mask out there, all with different benefits, so it is worth seeing which one you need as a basic. why you are using it and what the options are.
So first on the list is the standard surgical mask, and here I am wearing my own design whilst on oxygen (I know you are so jealous).
Now masks like this are quite loose fitting and there are gaps around the mask, so they are not overly designed to protect the lungs from airborne hazards.
They are with the exception of the cloth ones, normally used for one wear only. I tend to use one of these when I have a bad chest infection, especially as I often carry infectious strains, to avoid passing it on to other people. I also find that where it covers my nose and mouth it can help me with areas with strong smells and when going from hot/cold climates etc.
They are the pure basic of the mask and although some like my black cloth one here have added filtration layer, they will not protect from much, but if you do have a cold/flu they are nice to wear people, lets try and stop spreading the love through germs. I wish more people would wear them through cold/flu season as they seem to be unable to sneeze into a tissue (people seriously), it could limit the amount of infections which are passed around as easily.
Next up we have respirator type which is the mask you will normally find me in. Now I have a couple of types of these, some are softer and so if there is a need I can sleep in it, which is normally only when I am in a hospital and having a very bad flare. So respirators filter particles from the air when properly fitted, helping reduce the number of particles or germs the wearer breathes in. They are secured tightly to the face, usually with 2 head straps and an adjustable clip over the nose to allow for a more custom fit.
They take a while to get used to and it is really REALLY important that you ensure that if you have the one wear types you can buy in large boxes from places like 3M etc, that you use them for one wear.
Now these if you are like me an cannot breath in pollen, pollution or dust, never mind the fact I have a compromised immune system so a common cold could turn into the worst thing possible for me, enable me to have a semi-normal life. They have allowed me to go out on the worst of air quality days to get that item I forgot, they help me commute to work where as I wouldn’t be able to normally.
So aside from the masks (which I will go into in more details shortly) I recommend that anyone with a smartphone downloads an app “Air Matters” . It is something that I use a lot as a guideline for the day. Even with the masks there are some days where I have to make a judgement call that I need to stay in. This app show you at a glance the data at your nearest station, so I can see what the risk is today. not only that I can see what is causing the issues.
We all have different issues with allergens, some are not effected by Grasses but are triggered on Birch, so an overall announcement by the weather doesn’t help us, this app though breaks it down in a way we can see what is out there and how it is/can be an issue for is on that day.
So along with the app and my filter masks I have managed to be able to go out, do things, kind of even be semi normal (if you can get over the stares). When you spend days in hospital or shut in at home, it is so important to try and have a life. I spent ages stuck in the disposable ones, some of which the hospital gave me, before buying some from amazon this starts to work out pretty expensive. Plus they don’t really go with the Ted Baker dress I am rocking to work. So I took to good old eBay where you can pick up some really cheap ones but I really wasn’t seeing much benefit. I would say if you have a lesser allergy or you would only be hit on really bad days you would get away with them. I do use the cheaper ones to sleep in when in hospital. It blocks against that visitor with the strong perfume, or the cleaner who loves to clean with that bleach smelling thing. So they are good back-ups, but they also don’t last as long and not designed to.
For a while I used Cambridge Masks they come in so many bright patterns and are really comfy to wear. They hook over the ears and are pretty soft and squishy. They are slightly thicker than the medical masks BUT getting the right size is so important here. They do have a filtration system fitted and according to their site offer “protection against gases, smells, all PM; PM2.5, PM0.3, pollen, smoke and pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. I was finding though that I would often have gaps/baggy bits, not only that as it sits a little loose across the mouth, it could be a little moist. It really wasn’t a bad mask but retails around £25.99 and for me, on a low allergen day, it does the job. The down side was I wasn’t protected to the degree I needed. I still have one/two to sleep in as they come in a little tin, they are perfect for a hospital bag, also for flying in (planes are the worst for picking something up). They just weren’t to the grade I needed. I was still struggling on the odd day.
So after almost residing myself to the fact I would have to change my life forever… I started talking to a lot of talking to fellow bikers and dirt bikers. I don’t know why I didn’t before, having been a biker for goodness knows how long, it didn’t click. Why don’t I look into using dirt bike masks, surely they would be ok. That is when I stumbled across I stumbled across a company called Respro
Since then I don’t think I have tried others. Not only that you can buy different filters for what you want/need, different sizes etc. the type you see me in most is the Cinqro (see the picture at the top of this page), this is because it has the top level protection against EVERYTHING. I mean everything. The mask is a great fit (you do need to make sure you get the right one), there are no gaps, its not too tight, in fact I am mid flare-up (as you know), I had to go into Central London for a meeting, with my current Pneumonia and I wore my mask, not one issue related to air quality.
You can see the comparisons here if you want to see the different levels of protection the filters offer. The fit is great, I have a couple of different colors and styles, but they really are comfy to wear. The guys at Respro are great too, they will never over sell you and if you have questions you can ping them on facebook and they are only too happy to help. The masks retail from around from £35.99 depending on the filters and style.
I also know that some of you are a little weary of spending that much on a mask, knowing you have to replace the filters every so often. It is worth looking around, just because I need the highest level, doesn’t mean that this is right for you.
I also highly recommend getting a couple of the disposable ones, trying them out, seeing if they truly make a difference for you. Noticing changes in your SpO2 levels or peak flows, how quick it takes you to get out of breath, the change in the cough.
I never recommend rushing into things, all I can say is that because of my masks, I can now go out on days I would not be able to. I have a little bit more of my life back and for that I don’t mind the stares. It is a small price to pay to be able to be “normal”, to have a job I love, to see friends that make me smile.