As our summer heat arrives it’s a good time to begin preparing for wildfire smoke. The last two years have seen an increase of forest fires in our region, and forecasters are predicting a similar summer this year. We can all benefit from protecting our lungs when smoke is in the air, but preparation is especially important for people who have a higher risk of injury from smoke, including children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a respiratory or cardiac condition. If you have a respiratory or cardiac condition for which you take medication, make sure you have some on hand and refills available to get you through the summer.
When air quality is poor, there are several things that can be done to protect our lungs. Our first line of protection is to clean up the air in our home as much as possible to provide a place of respite from the smoke. Avoid any synthetic scents or activities that stir up dust. This means no perfume or candles, no smoking indoors, and complete any vacuuming before air quality diminishes. Check the filters on your HVAC system and change them to a high-efficiency type that screens out smoke particulates. My favorite brand and model is FilterBuy Merv 13. They can be custom sized to fit your system.
While you’re purchasing air filters, you may want to get a couple extra to have on hand for a home made room filter. Filters can be secured onto a floor fan and kept running in a closed room, such as a bedroom, to provide a very clean air environment. Check out this video to learn more about how to make a homemade room filter. Portable air filtration units can also be purchased. Look for a filter that cycle the air 2-3 times per hour for the square footage of your room. Avoid ionizing electric air cleaners, and instead select one that has a high-efficiency or HEPA filter.
Our second line of protection is preventative screening from exposure when we need to go out. Masks can be purchased in advance to wear if it is necessary to go outside. Look for masks rated N95 or P100 and check to make sure they fit tightly against your face. If you need to drive somewhere while conditions are poor, make sure your car filtration system has clean filters, and set your airflow to recirculate. This will help to avoid drawing in more smoke through the vents.
Ok, you’re prepared, you have your filter and masks ready. Now, how do you know when to use them? If there is ash floating about or the surrounding hilltops are obscured it’s obvious that smoke is a problem, but air that appears clear can still pose some danger. To check air quality for East King County, I recommend using the AirNow site hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The United States Forest Service also has a site that shows updated information about wildfire locations and smoke spread.
All of the things I’ve recommended so far are things that can be prepared for in advance. But is there anything else you can do to support your body during the event? Absolutely! Smoke can contain a number of toxins, particularly if man-made structures are burning. Our bodies are incredibly resilient, with organ and cellular processes in place to detoxify. We can support these processes by drinking plenty of clean water, avoiding processed foods and beverages, and eating nutrient dense foods. Beets, leafy greens, and citrus fruits all provide nutrients that act as co-factors in detoxification reactions. Antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries and green tea protect cells from damage. Herbal teas, such as dandelion, burdock, and red clover, may be of some benefit as well. Check out my blog post on teas to learn how to make therapeutic preparations.
I hope you found this article helpful for preparing for the upcoming season! As usual, this information is for provided for general knowledge purposes, and is not a personal medical or health recommendation. Please make an appointment for a personal medical or health recommendation, or click here to learn about how we might work together.
Dr. Tremblay graduated from high school with an associate’s degree in horticulture and worked as a gardener for 10 years before returning to higher education and the healer’s path. Dr. Tremblay studied native plant ecology and ethnomedicine at The Evergreen State College, and earned her doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. Read more >>