How to Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke

So far in 2019, wildfire smoke has been less noticeable in the skies above the South Sound compared with last summer’s hazy conditions. In 2018, Washington had more than 1,800 wildfires, a state record. Yet experts fear that 2019 could be just as severe[sc1] .

We’ve already had a high number of wildfires flare up west of the Cascades in 2019, but that’s not the only danger. Fires burning in Eastern Washington, British Columbia, and even California can negatively affect our local air quality, as Puget Sound residents learned last summer.

Wildfire smoke causes poor air quality, which increases health risks for those with respiratory problems. Medical research conducted in recent years has found that wildfire smoke can cause increased risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), particularly for the elderly. Additionally, gases and fine particles from the smoke cause eye irritation, sore throat, headaches, inflamed sinuses, and other symptoms.

And when wildfires increase, so do health problems. Over the last three years, Western states saw an average number of fills for asthma medication increase by nearly 30%, with noted spikes during wildfire outbreaks. So, it’s best to be prepared so you can protect yourself should the air get smoky and hazy.

Tips for Dealing with Wildfire Smoke

The best way to protect yourself, especially if you have respiratory problems, is to stay indoors as much as possible when smoke is in the air. Here are 10 other tips for protecting your health from the dangers of wildfire smoke:

Pay attention to local air quality reports and follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index Chart. You can also use an app on your smartphone to get real-time air quality information.Develop an asthma or COPD action plan with your doctor. This includes making sure you have working inhalers — and rescue inhalers — on hand at all times and that you know how to use them.Do not exercise outside when smoke is in the air.Close the fresh-air intake on air conditioners.Make sure air filters are cleaned to prevent outdoor smoke from getting in.Put air conditioners on recirculate mode.Keep doors and windows closed.Do not vacuum, since it can stir up particles in the home.Do not smoke tobacco, burn candles, or start a fire in your fireplace.If you choose to wear a mask for protection, make sure it’s a N95 or N100 model only. Surgical masks, dust masks, and plain face masks do not protect you from wildfire smoke because they are designed to catch only large particles like sawdust. They do not prevent you from inhaling fine particles such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, or sulfur dioxide, which are the primary pollutants found in wildfire smoke. If you use oxygen, ask your doctor about adjusting your levels according to the air quality index. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following, especially if wildfire smoke is in the air: unresolved wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, lightheadedness, or dizziness. 

For more information on the risks of wildfire smoke, or to develop an asthma or COPD action plan, consult your physician or healthcare provider.


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