Air quality can be a big deal this time of year, and it changes depending on where the wildfires are and which way the wind is blowing. Wildfire smoke can cause irritating symptoms for healthy people and more serious health issues for people with heart and lung disease. It’s important to know how to protect yourself and your family from smoky air whenever possible.
Let’s start with precautions: How can we limit our exposure to smoke?
Mostly, you should reduce your time and activities outside as much as possible. Stay indoors in air-conditioning, if you can. If you don’t have air conditioning, go someplace that does, like the mall or library. Otherwise, there are several things you can do to limit the smoky air you breathe:
- Keep your windows and doors closed.
- If you have central air conditioning, use an air filter rated MERV 8 or higher and turn your system fan setting to on.
- If you have to drive in smoky areas, turn the vehicle air flow to recirculate to reduce the amount of smoke in the vehicle.
Who is most at risk for harmful effects of smoke?
Infants and young children suffer more from smoke because they breathe more air than adults do for their body size. Older adults and people with lung and heart conditions also are especially sensitive to smoke in the air. Even low levels of smoke can cause breathing problems for those with asthma, COPD, and other chronic lung diseases. And for people with chronic heart conditions, smoky air can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Smoke can also increase risk of premature birth in pregnant women.
When should we become concerned about the symptoms of smoke exposure?
Common effects of smoke exposure include irritated eyes, nose, and throat. However, if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, headaches, fatigue, or a combination of those symptoms and they become severe, you should call your doctor.
What if I have an event outside or my child has a game that we can’t miss?
Visit the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality website or the Idaho Smoke Information Blog to check local air quality conditions. The Department of Health and Welfare also provides activity guidelines for outdoor events at www.wildfiresmoke.dhw.idaho.gov under the tab labeled Other Resources. If an outside event or game isn’t canceled, drink plenty of water and do your best to limit your time outside. If smoke-related symptoms become difficult or get a lot worse, move indoors. Your family’s health is more important than a sporting event when air quality is not good.
Should we consider masks when air quality is poor?
We don’t recommend masks for several reasons. Mainly, dust and surgical masks do not reduce the amount of smoke you breathe because they do not stop smoke particles from going around the filter. While respirator masks might seem like a good idea, they are difficult to adjust for a correct seal to your face and they can stress your body more than the smoke. Your best bet is to stay in an air-conditioned area and out of the smoke as much as you can.
- Wildfire Smoke and Your Health information from DHW, including symptoms of smoke sensitivity, ways to reduce exposure, portable air cleaners and tips on preparing a wildfire emergency evacuation kit for your home: wildfiresmoke.dhw.idaho.gov
- Real-time air monitoring: http://airquality.deq.idaho.gov/
- Idaho DEQ: http://www.deq.idaho.gov/air-quality/
- Smoke Information Blog: http://idsmoke.blogspot.com/
(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at around 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays. This is an edited transcript of the one from Aug. 13.)