When are surgical face masks used?

24 Nov 2021
Categories: News

surgical face masksIn the first of this series of face mask related posts – the medical face mask guide, I gave you an overview of the different types of face masks used in medical settings. Today’s post describes the different uses of surgical face masks, both elasticated earloop and tie-on.

Healthcare surgical masks use in the context of viral respiratory tract infection has two objectives:

  1. To reduce the risk of droplet transmission of infection to others
  2. To reduce the risk of droplet transmission of infection to the wearer

The HSE states that surgical face masks should be worn by all healthcare workers for interactions with other healthcare workers in healthcare settings where patients are not cared for. This applies to all healthcare settings, including primary, secondary, tertiary care, the National Ambulance Service and vaccination centres.

In surgery, doctors must change their surgical mask at least every two hours.

Irema makes two categories of surgical masks for use in medical settings: Type II and Type IIR. These can either be tie-on or have elasticated earloops. Some uses are interchangeable but they do have individual uses. The minimum Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE) for surgical masks is ≥98%.


Ear loop surgical face masks

Ear loop is the type we have become familiar over the last 2 years. They are used in the cloth masks we wear in shops. The surgical quality that we can also buy in shops such as Boots have a higher level of bacterial filtration and are now recommended if you have Covid-19 or are a close contact (together with FFP2 masks).


Style Type Use
Classic II and IIR Hospital staff

General public

Non-surgical procedures that do not involve spray or fluid

XtraComfort II and IIR Special material for people with sensitive skin



Special material for non-surgical procedures involving spray or fluid



Here’s a video from the HSE (Irish Health Service Executive) on how to safely put on and take off a medical mask with ear loops.


Tie-on surgical face masks

Studies show that tie-on masks provide stronger protection than ear loop masks as the ties can be adjusted to fit each face better than elastic. This is why tie-ons are favoured for use in surgical procedures.



Style Type Use
XtraComfort II People with sensitive skin

Minor procedures


Anti-fog II  

For people with glasses





For people with beards or large faces



Procedures involving spray or fluid



In Ireland, healthcare workers

“are more used to using these [tie-on] masks as they are used to putting them on and taking them off in a way that reduces the risk of contamination… It’s easier to take them off without risk of contamination than ear-loops” Professor Martin Cormican

Watch the video to learn how to safely put on a tie-on medical mask.



Why the different colours you ask? Well blue as you know tends to be for general use whereas green and white tend to be used in surgery. But really there is no difference in the mask itself.


Related posts

The Irema medical face mask guide

The general public can buy Irema respirator masks on the StaySafe.ie website. Healthcare professionals should order through Promedicare in Ireland and other medical distributors around the world. A one pallet minimum order can be placed directly with Irema. A pallet contains 98 cases with 6 boxes per case (588 boxes) and 50 masks per box (29,400 masks).


First posted 24 Nov 21. Updated 4 Feb 22.

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