What is the difference between a medical face mask and respirator, and how and when they should be used? The quick answer is medical face masks are meant to protect others and your environment; respirators are meant to protect the wearer.
A medical face mask helps reduce contamination from the wearers’ nose and mouth (saliva and respiratory secretions, as well as droplets generated by a cough or a sneeze) getting on others or entering the environment. Although protecting others and the environment is the main intent of the masks, they can also reduce the likelihood of the larger particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain potentially infectious diseases from reaching the wearer’s nose and mouth. However, medical face masks, by design do not filter or block very small particles in the air and do not provide total protection from aerosolized droplets which may contain pathogens.