Early surgical masks were constructed from layers of cotton gauze. They were first worn by surgery staff in the early 1900s to prevent contamination of open surgical wounds. With time their design, function, and use have expanded. Today surgical masks are worn in a wide range of healthcare settings to protect patients from the wearersÃ¢Â€Â™ respiratory emissions. A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that prevents the release of potential contaminants from the user into their immediate environment.