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Like all other personal protective equipment (PPE), respirators differ greatly depending on the level of hazards faced by the wearer. For example a disposable dust mask is a totally different product than a military-issue, dual cartridge respirator designed to protect against chemical warfare. There are three basic respirator formats:
Air purifying respirators are more effective than dust masks as they are offered with cartridges and/or filters that can eliminate specific particles, gases, fumes, or other airborne threats. Some designs will accept different cartridges/filters if you face a variety of hazards.
Air supplied respirators, often affectionately called “gas masks”, are designed for the most dangerous hazards, where purifying the surrounding air might still carry the risk of allowing pathogens to find their way through the process. Some of these might even have their own “power” in the form of a fan to help air flow. All respirators, from the simple particulate respirator to the most sophisticated chemical respirators, impose some level of breathing difficulty as compared to normal. Consequently, those with lung deficiencies, very young children, elderly people, etc. should use these devices with great care.