Can Masks Filter Pollen and Protect Us From Hay Fever?

Every year, spring’s blossoms bring with them wave of pollen. For places like Beijing, it’s also the start of the ‘snowy season’, with the hundreds of willow trees producing their fluffy catkin friends and the sniffles that follow. But how can we avoid the uncomfortable coughing and sneezing? Which masks work best for protecting us from pollen? Can surgical masks, single-use face masks, respirators or even Pitta masks filter out pollen?

To answer which masks work best, let’s break this down into two parts:

1. How big are pollen particles?

Pollen particle sizes typically range from 10 microns up to 200 microns — about the width of a human hair. That makes them pretty ‘large’, as far as particles go. They’re bigger than most smog, PM2.5 and soot particles, but smaller in size than heavy dust and sand-like particles.

Looking at individual pollen types, they vary greatly in size. Most trees have pollen that are in the range of 50 – 200 microns. The smallest pollen known measures 9 microns, the pollen of mimosa pudica.

t four times bigger than PM2.5, pollen is much more likely to get stuck in our throat, nose and lungs, as opposed to being absorbed into our blood. That means keeping them out of our throat, nose and lungs, can help to reduce the impact they have on our bodies.

2. Can Masks Filter Out Pollen-Sized Particles?

Because pollen particles are fairly large, most masks will capture a high percentage of it. Data shows that even surgical masks can capture up to 80% of tiny PM2.5 particles. They even do a great job when wearing them. Since the size of pollen is bigger than PM2.5, surgical masks will do even better at capturing them.

Other masks, such as 3M respirators and masks focused at filtering out PM2.5 do an even better job of capturing particulates. The 3M masks tested by Smart Air were able to capture over 99% of particulates when being worn.