It is important to distinguish surgical mask with respirators, do not confuse them. Masks do not protect the wearer against airborne contaminants and viruses. It filters the carrier exhaled air. Surgical mask lacks protection against particles and viruses for those who wear it. A surgical mask can be used to reduce the spread of an infection. Respiratory protection, on the other hand, protects the wearer from particles and viruses.

What is the difference between a respirator and a surgical mask?

Respiratory protection, also called respirators, and surgical masks are intended for various purposes. A surgical mask is used to protect the patient from microorganisms in the carrier’s (healthcare professionals’) exhaled air. Surgical masks of class IR and IIR also protect the wearer against visible liquid splashes. Respiratory protection, on the other hand, is intended to protect the carrier (healthcare professionals) against airborne infection, such as tuberculosis. Due to this, the fit, function and tests of respiratory protection and surgical mask protection differ. Respiratory protection is covered by the personal protective equipment regulation and surgical mask under product legislation for medical devices.

Understanding the Difference


Surgical Mask

N95 Respirator

Testing and
Cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA)
Evaluated, tested, and approved by
NIOSH as per the requirements in
42 CFR Part 84
Intended Use
and Purpose
Fluid resistant and provides the wearer
protection against large droplets,
splashes, or sprays of bodily or other
hazardous fluids. Protects the patient
from the wearer’s respiratory emissions.
Reduces wearer’s exposure to particles
including small particle aerosols and
large droplets (only non-oil aerosols).
Face Seal Fit
Loose-fitting Tight-fitting
Fit Testing
User Seal Check
NoYes. Required each time the respirator
is donned (put on)
FiltrationDoes NOT provide the wearer with a
reliable level of protection from inhaling
smaller airborne particles and is not
considered respiratory protection.
Filters out at least 95% of airborne
particles including large and small
LeakageLeakage occurs around the edge of the
mask when user inhales
When properly fitted and donned,
minimal leakage occurs around edges
of the respirator when user inhales
Use LimitationsDisposable. Discard after each patient
Ideally should be discarded after each
patient encounter and after aerosolgenerating procedures. It should
also be discarded when it becomes
damaged or deformed; no longer
forms an effective seal to the face;
becomes wet or visibly dirty; breathing
becomes difficult; or if it becomes
contaminated with blood, respiratory
or nasal secretions, or other bodily
fluids from patients.