Wildfire Smoke

With wildfires getting larger more often, smoke, hazy skies, and unhealthy air quality are all going to become a part of our summers more and more. (Check out this interesting article on how researchers are tracking wildfire smoke and people’s reactions to the smoke using social media!)

Here’s what you can do to help keep you and your loved ones safe when smoke settles into the area:

  • Know what the Air Quality Index (AQI) is in the area and in places you plan to travel to. Check the news! The AQI is simply a way to see how clean or polluted the air is. It runs from 0 (clean) to 500 (emergency health hazard) and the numbers can change throughout the day even in the same location.
  • Drink plenty of water!
  • Check in on your family, friends, and neighbors in the sensitive group – people who are:
    • Under 18
    • Older than 65
    • Smokers
    • Pregnant (both mama and baby are at risk from exposure!)
    • Currently sick, such as with a cold or flu
    • Stroke survivors
    • Diagnosed with or suspected to have chronic conditions, especially diabetes and heart and lung diseases (talk with your medical provider to find out what steps you should take to stay safe until the smoke passes!)
  • Avoid intense physical activity! The effects of the smoke actually worsen with physical activity in the smoky conditions. And when we are engaged in intense physical activity, we breath deeper and more frequently.
    • Reschedule activities.
    • Choose a different activity that is not so intense.
    • Shorten the time spent outside doing the activity.
  • Avoid actions that increase indoor air pollution:
    • Smoking
    • Candles
    • Incense
    • Vacuuming – it stirs up particles already in the home!
    • Gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces
    • Aerosol products (such as cleaning products, hair spray, etc.)
    • Frying or broiling meat
  • Stay inside! Even healthy people can be effected by the smoky conditions. Some of the particles that float around are small enough to get into your lungs or even bloodstream!
  • Keep your windows and doors closed at home and in the car. People who do not have air conditioning will have to find a balance between making sure they remain cool enough and limiting their exposure. Unfortunately those who are more sensitive to heat-related illnesses are also more sensitive to the smoke in the air. Make sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
    • If you do not have an A/C, consider going to a cooling shelter, mall, movie theater, library, or friend’s house to stay cool and avoid the smoke. Drink plenty of water. Put up an air purifier if you can.
  • Put your fans/air conditioner on re-circulate or close outdoor air intake vents.
  • If you can, use an air cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Adults can choose to wear NIOSH N95 or P100 masks. They restrict childrens’ breathing too much for them to wear masks. Surgical masks, dust masks, bandanas, and other face coverings do not offer protection from particle pollution like that produced by smoke.

Wildfire smoke can worsen symptoms for those already sick and even make people who are healthy sick. Keep an eye out for symptoms in yourself and your loved ones and when you check in on your neighbors:

  • Burning eyes
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • phlegm
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Symptoms can be annoying or life-threatening. If you start experiencing these symptoms, take the steps above to limit your exposure. If you experience shortness of breath and/or chest pain, call 9-1-1 so that we can come evaluate you!

Once the smoke lifts, here’s some things you can do before the next round of smoke hits:

  • Air out your house! Open the windows and doors and let all that fresh air in!
  • Clean your house! Dust, sweep, and vacuum!
  • Make some headway on anything you had to hold off on because of the poor air quality – run errands, weed your garden, etc!
  • Get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather and clear skies! Make sure to take your pets too!
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