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Face shield and Protective visors

When a new disease starts spreading in the world, infection control becomes extremely important, both personally and professionally. With the outbreak of COVID-19, healthcare workers across the globe are taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and other patients from coming into contact with the novel virus.

One part of this personal protective equipment is the use of protective face shields or visors.

medical face shield

What are protective face shields?

Protective face shields are also known as visors. They are most commonly used in working environments where there is a risk of dangerous or infectious materials and particles coming into contact with the wearer’s face. Typically, protective face shields are worn in addition to other equipment that covers the face, and in a medical context, particularly the nose, mouth and eyes.

For infection control purposes, protective face shields need to have a high degree of splash protection. Most common viruses and bacteria spread via droplets from an infected individual, and so it’s in order to avoid this splash from coming into contact with a healthcare worker’s face that face shields or visors should be worn.

What kinds of protective face shields are there?

Protection of the face in working environments is important for a number of purposes. A welder needs to protect themselves and their eyes from heat, while a medical professional needs to protect themselves from infectious or hazardous materials. Because a protective face shield or visor can be intended for several professions, they also come in different designs.

The most basic type of protective face shield is a single plastic shield attached to a headband that the wearer uses to cover their face. However, this is not a sufficient protection for infection control purposes, or in medical environments where the risk of infection is high. The CDC in the United States notes that a face shield should have both a crown and a chin protection, and wrap around the ears. Once again, this is to avoid sprays or splashes from reaching the wearer’s face. Furthermore, face shields should be worn in addition to protective eye goggles, and not as a substitute.

Note that face shields and visors are not the same as full-face respirators, which are an even higher level of protection against infection. These are tighter fitted than shields, and generally come with a respiratory unit that also protects against smaller particles in the air.

The difference between eye protection and face protection

As the name suggests, protective face shields are a component of personal protective equipment particularly intended for the protection of the entire face. Eye protection on the other hand, such as safety glasses or goggles, only protects the eyes. When attempting to limit the spread of an infectious and novel disease, this is not sufficient for infection control purposes. Any infected splash that comes into contact with a healthcare worker’s face poses a risk of spread.

Because of this, the WHO recommends a face shield or safety goggles for infectious environments, in order to reduce the chance of virus or bacteria spreading. The better the face is covered, the higher the likelihood of droplets from infected patients not reaching the wearer’s face, nose, mouth or eyes.

Who should wear protective face shields?

Protective face shields are intended as part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) of professionals in hazardous or infectious environments. As we’ve seen here, when workers take care to protect themselves, the chance of injury or infection is considerably reduced. Most viruses and bacteria are spread via droplets, and so the face is of particular importance when it comes to PPE. In medical contexts or infection control efforts, only healthcare professionals need to wear protective face shields.

At a personal level, there is the risk that too much PPE is either not handled correctly – and so doesn’t help reduce spread of infection – and also that general demand causes equipment shortage in the health services. Only doctors, nurses and others working directly with the treatment, sampling or testing of suspected or confirmed cases of a disease are required to use this equipment.

Protective face shields and visors in the coronavirus outbreak

It is the official policy of the WHO that professionals in the health services wear protective face shields or visors as an infection control measure against the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to protecting their hands, nose, mouth and eyes – and wearing a long-sleeved gown – a face shield is also considered an important component of their personal protective equipment.

Non-medical workers are not recommended to use protective face shields. It is only in rare personal contexts that this is seen to have an effect against the spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, if too many individuals purchase protective face shields, it may cause a shortage for health services. This is why the WHO presses that at the individual level, social distancing and taking care to wash your hands often, as well as self-isolating if you’re experiencing symptoms, are the recommended infection control measures to be taken.

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