Commuting Pollen / Polution / Dust Mask: Blessing or Hooy?
March 23, 2010 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Dear hivemind, can you recommend (or provide an argument against) a face mask designed to keep the majority of large particles out of my nose and mouth while outside?

So, Atlanta is getting ready to experience the season I refer to as Yellow. Pollen counts run on average between 1200 and 2000, but can spike as high as nearly 4000, here during the spring. While I am not particularly allergic to the pollen, I do have a fairly major problem with high particulate counts in the air (dust, pollen, or whatever) so I'm generally pretty miserable from late March to mid May every year.
In talking with a friend of mine in Japan, she recommended a product that is a neoprene mask with a pair of breathing valves, and a replaceable charcoal filter, which is worn by cyclist and some other people during the worst of the pollen season, or when dust storms blow in from China. The one she linked me to was the filt-r brand. In googling, I have come across a few other brands, all operating on the same principle.

So, hivemind. Have you ever a) used one of these, b) can you recommend a brand of these that is generally seen as the best, c) recommend a place to purchase one online, or d) convince me that these things can't possibly work the way they describe, and are a load of whoo?
posted by strixus to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that they probably do work, as I saw people frequently wearing respirator-type masks while doing yardwork during the worst of the ATL pollen season. I've since moved a bit further north and still see older folks wearing them while mowing the grass in the middle-to-late Spring of middle TN.

For myself, daily Claritin did the trick most of the time, but there were days when even that didn't do much to get rid of the itching and burning. I gotta believe that it'd be uncomfortable as hell, but if you're more miserable without it, go for it.
posted by jquinby at 1:40 PM on March 23, 2010

I'll admit that I'm a bit skeptical, but for $30 bucks vs. "I'm generally pretty miserable from late March to mid May every year," you might just want to see how it works, unless you can't afford it. I would wonder what you do about your eyes.

Of my friends who have bad allergies, those that have had the greatest reduction in symptoms are those who have gotten allergy shots.
posted by OmieWise at 1:41 PM on March 23, 2010

You are looking for a N95

an example of which is here
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:47 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

At Burning Man, I use the "sport mask", available at

It works against the talcum-like playa dust, as well as pollen. Also, it doesn't really restrict your breathing like some of the heavier-duty masks. Last year, I found myself doing yard work with it on, since it really did help quite a bit without being (terribly) uncomfortable.

The filters are replaceable, and pretty cheap.
posted by Invoke at 1:56 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would try something like this P-100 mask. It will filter out most particulates down to 0.3 microns, but is not horrible to breath through.
posted by Danf at 2:05 PM on March 23, 2010

Atlanta's yellow season is very different from normal spring allergy season in other cities. The issue is, as you state, mostly particulate matter; pine pollen is too large for most folks to be allergic to, but there's just so damned much of it, it's like breathing very fine dust or even smoke.

When I lived there and biked to work, I wore a bandana across my face to screen out some of the stuff. Based in the success of that, I would strongly recommend some type of mask, yes. I don't think it needs to be super-fine; ease-of-breathing is probably a more important criterion.

This is not to question the fact that you are having allergy symproms. Pine pollen comes out at the same time as other pollens. But you're probably not allergic to the pine.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:19 PM on March 23, 2010

Response by poster: I don't have allergy symptoms. I have the symptoms of someone who breathes particulates into their lungs and sinuses to cause horrible irritation.
posted by strixus at 3:15 PM on March 23, 2010

Are you guessing, or have you had the imaging and allergy tests done? I thought I had a bad sinus infection until some testing indicated that it was probably allergies instead. A Singulair prescription in hand, and my allergy problems (erm, "sinus problems") were essentially gone overnight. Yeah.

Basically, probably not a bad idea to get your doctor involved if this is really bothering you. They are often quite helpful!
posted by jrockway at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2010

I don't think there's any reason to involve a charcoal filter. Charcoal is good for solvent fumes, but not for particulates. I would just try a good-quality dust mask such as the N95 one mentioned by Pressed Rat, or if you want to splurge, an N99 mask (which will stop smaller particles more effectively).
posted by jon1270 at 6:18 PM on March 23, 2010

This sounds much like fine wood dust and I use a plain neoprene replaceable filter N95/N99 mask for that. I also use a prefilter (basically a sheet of paper) that is held over my cartridges by a rubber band. When it gets plugged I just take it off, give it a shake and put it back on. Charcoal would be expensive overkill.

It's important the mask fit properly. Eg: If you cover the intake part of the filter on a replaceable filter mask the mask should suck down to your face. Also some people should not wear filter masks. I don't know the reason but every place I've worked that required masks made us see a doctor/nurse before they'd let us use them.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 PM on March 23, 2010

Response by poster: Not guessing about the allergies. I do have them, just not to most pollens. Even had the full back check done three times now. And years of allergy shots for the mold allergies. But no, this is, per two different doctors, purely an effect of the particulates irritating my sinuses and lungs.

Thanks for the advice so far folks.
posted by strixus at 8:16 PM on March 23, 2010

I've been combating a Mystery Exposure at work with a $4 dust mask recommended for yard work & sanding that I got from Home Depot. I believe it was also rated for pollen-fighting. That's not expert advise, but before you go high-end, you might see if some of the cheap-and-easy solutions are effective.
posted by Ys at 8:17 PM on March 23, 2010

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