How to protect an infant from hazardous smog?
June 20, 2013 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Where can we find a N95 respirator mask for a small infant, and how else can we protect a baby from very polluted air?

My friend in Singapore has a week old infant, born as Singapore's air pollution caused by Indonesian forest fires hits record highs.
Right now the air pollution has been hovering around levels classified as "very unhealthy" to "hazardous". The PSI (similar to AQI) has been ranging around the 200s and 300s, with the highest 3-hour average recorded as 371. PM2.5 readings have been ranging between 200 - 300.
The pollution is expected to persist for weeks, the government has recommended against outdoor physical activity and residents have been advised to wear N95 masks.

She can't find a N95 mask for her child, and we've heard there are no N95 masks made for babies. Is this true? What else can be done to protect the baby? (They have ordered an air purifying machine online; it should take some time to arrive.)

Would be grateful for any suggestions/advice. Thank you so much in advance.
posted by aielen to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
Please have your friend check with a doctor about this. I honestly do not know the risks, but standing here as an outside observer, I would be terrified to do anything to a week old baby that would possibly inhibit its breathing in any way. They're so fragile and so little and my brain just immediately leaps to things like SIDS.

If the doctor says it's ok for the baby to wear a mask, then perhaps s/he can recommend something that fits. It seems like a non-molded surgical mask might work ok, even if it's too big, just to provide at least some barrier.
posted by phunniemee at 12:28 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Absolutely do not put a mask on the baby without checking with at least two different physicians - preferably a pediatric doctor. Breathing is harder with a mask, especially an N95 mask, and it seems like an extremely dangerous idea to use on a tiny newborn. You really do not want to make breathing harder for newborns or infants.

In the meantime, I'd keep the baby inside, with air conditioning and an air purifier going. You should ask about the purifier too - some of them use ozone, which can do more harm than good.

Talk to the doctor. They'll have other recommendations specific to the local conditions.
posted by barnone at 12:34 PM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yea, I think you guys are approaching this the wrong way. What you want is a serious air filter. A certain friend who grew erm, "medicine" had a filtration system they normally sold to hospitals for cleaning the air in specific treatment rooms. The thing was so strong that any sort of smoke/particulate and even smells that went in came out perfectly clean and neutral.

It was less than $500, although it was meant to be mounted in a ceiling or something originally and he needed to rig up some dryer hose for the intake\exhaust.

I'd just track down something like that and set up a "nursery" room with heavy air filtration. The mask thing sketches me out for reasons already stated above, and with a filtered room you can hang out with the baby and nurse without a mask on, etc.
posted by emptythought at 1:20 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you can't get an N95 (at all or one that's qualified as okay for babies) then remember what that 95 stands for: a 95% of particulates effectiveness rating. Meaning more than 0%, being unmasked/protected, so don't let (95%) perfect be the enemy of the good.

"What else can be done" is keeping some effort at a seal on the home and running whatever filtration they have full-time and at best effectiveness. Meaning keep the air handler's filter clean.

Looking online it seems like folks above are likely right - you're not going to find an N95 for an infant because the power required to pull air into it is going to be too great. Which should be a shock to nobody who has worn one - they can be an effort for full-grown and healthy lungs. I see hoods available but I'm not sure this situation justifies that over minimal exposure.

If they can't get a proper air filter in short order but have access to other materials it might be worth a partial solution. A box fan with an A/C filter or two bungee-corded to it will accomplish more than nothing. Or even a dampened sheet. Don't leave it running unattended, as the additional load can cause a short and even potentially fire. But I've seen many a woodworker create home filtration solutions like these to some effect (based on what the filters look like very quickly).
posted by phearlez at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2013

I understand that because of recent nearby fires, a near "run" on air filtration equipment has been going on in Singapore and nearby area stores. Yet, if your friends are looking for an effective, immediately available temporary solution, they might look about in local stores for HEPA filter bags/elements for their vacuum cleaner. Or, perhaps, even buy a new Shop Vac (or Shop Vac style vacuum) with HEPA filters. If the vacuum has been previously used, it will be necessary to clean it thoroughly before installing new HEPA bags/filters, but the average household upright moves tens of cubic feet of air per minute, even through HEPA bags, and might well serve, a few minutes per hour, as an effective temporary "air cleaner" for a single nursery room.
posted by paulsc at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2013

I'm in Singapore right now, and yeah, the haze is pretty bad. We've closed all our windows and switched all our aircon units on to fan mode, so that they filter the air (we like to avoid the aircon mode where possible).

I don't know how effective it is compared to having a proper air filter, but the air quality inside is noticeable better than outside (if I open a window or door, you can immediately smell the smoke outside).
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2013

Yikes. I'm in Malaysia, moving down to Singapore next weekend, and it's pretty crazy. The least your friend can do for now is to keep the baby indoors as far as possible, all windows and doors closed, with the air conditioning on 'fan mode' as mentioned. It makes a difference. And hydration!

I'm so sorry that this is happening; your friends must be pretty freaked out, as even all we haze-veterans are, seeing as it's so bad. I hope baby and family come through well.
posted by undue influence at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: We're trying to figure out what to do too with a toddler in the house who had crappy lungs. The masks are really only for 3 year olds and up because they are really difficult to keep the masks properly on a baby who can't understand the purpose and because it takes more effort to breathe through the masks. Hospitals use sort of incubator boxes to protect babies, and for toddlers, you can get hood-style masks that cover the entire head - really difficult to wear long-term.

If they have air-conditioners, they should keep the baby inside with the air-con going as much as possible. Clean the filters, and look into getting an extra filter like the Filtrete 3M ones. They're usually sold at the DIY stores, but might be out of stock already - we're going to order from Amazon, ditto for n95 masks for the rest of our kids because you can get the ones with valves so they're not so humid to wear.

The air filters are all out of stock until July I've heard, although they should ask around - someone with an extra may lend it or sell it to them because of the baby.

The other alternative which we are debating today is to courier one from Amazon. Still cheaper than a sick baby. We are also seriously discussing taking the toddler away from Singapore for a couple of weeks. Travelling with a new baby is horrible, but if your friends have family outside S.E. Asia (we're considering Cambodia or New Zealand), four weeks trapped at home in an air-conditioned room vs four weeks staying overseas....

It's so surreal to be here - it's not that bad at ground level at first, but we're on the 34th floor and can barely see more than 500m when we used to see the horizon. Our toddler is wheezing and sneezing. I can only imagine how scary this would be without air-conditioning even!
posted by viggorlijah at 7:21 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

N95 masks have to be fitted to the wearer, as far as I know. I work in a hospital setting (in Canada, not Singapore) and we had to have a certified person come in and test us all to make sure we were wearing the right size.

I think that buying an air filter is probably a better plan.
posted by janepanic at 8:40 PM on June 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the input. We also asked a doctor, and the doctor said that baby's lungs wouldn't be strong enough to breathe through an N95 mask.

My friend is reading the thread and says they have ordered a filter on Amazon but it will only arrive on Tuesday, and that pretty much all Singapore filters emit ozone. They have considered going to Australia, but it will take at least a week to make the baby's passport and they will have to physically bring her down to the passport office to collect it. They've sealed up some of the windows and all shifted into the room that seems the least hazy.
She's asking if it would make sense to get an incubator - and how to get one? Not sure what else to do, and it's not easy to breathe even as an adult.
posted by aielen at 10:49 PM on June 20, 2013

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