FAQ – Using P2 facemasks for children

Protective facemasks have been one of the ‘go to’ items to help with relief from the extremely poor air quality and bushfire smoke that has shrouded our country these past few months. Some states are now in short supply and the high demand for these products continues to grow as fires continue to burn uncontrollably, releasing hazardous levels of smoke and PM2.5 particles into the air.   People have been cooped up indoors for days on end trying to escape the current conditions and reduce the risk of being exposed to the dangerous PM2.5, but their patience is wearing thin and people are desperate to get back to their normal routines, many putting themselves at risk and venturing outside in these extreme conditions.  The consistent health messaging has been around staying indoors, creating a clean air shelter, using air conditioners and air purifiers to filter the air, avoiding exercise, taking preventative medications if you have asthma, having relievers on hand, following your asthma management plan, seeking medical assistance if you feel unwell and in the case that you have to venture outside, use a form fitting P2 facemask.  Given that poor air quality has been present for such a long time and remains a concern, there are new considerations for the effectiveness and use of the P2 facemasks and with school holidays nearing the end, parents are questioning what to do with their children when the air quality is still poor.

Are they suitable for children?

In consultation with our Professional Advisory Council (PAC), it has been advised that facemasks are not designed or suitable for children under the age of 14 years. Although some masks may be available in small sizes, it is unlikely that they will have a perfect fit and are therefore unlikely to be beneficial. A poorly fitted mask actually makes it harder to breathe which leads to the rebreathing of expired air (with high carbon dioxide levels) which can make you feel unwell and cause anxiety in children.  So, what should you do for children?  Avoidance is the best advice, as we know people most at risk are people with existing heart and lung conditions, people over 65+, pregnant women, children under 14 years and people with diabetes. Ensure that the child/carer has adequate supplies of preventer and reliever medication. Seek medical advice if the child has any breathing difficulties and keep children (particularly those with respiratory conditions) away from bad environments where possible.  Air conditioners and air purifiers (with Hepa filters) may help improve indoor air quality. If a child does wear a mask and has trouble breathing, it should be removed immediately as the mask may be the very thing causing the breathing problems. It is also strongly advised that masks not be used for babies.  Asthma Australia are currently working on some guidelines for schools when it comes to air quality management and some advice for parents for when their child is due to go back to school if the air quality is still poor. Keep an eye on our blog page for further updates and for more information on P2 facemasks view our fact sheet from the Australian Government.