The last few years have seen an increase in wildfires in our region. 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. Keep reading to learn more about how to prepare for poor air quality due to wildfires.
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. 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. During poor air quality conditions, avoid any synthetic scents or activities that stir up dust. Some examples include plug in or spray air fresheners, candles, smoking, incense, and vacuuming.
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 this video from the Washington State Department of Ecology 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 limiting 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, KN95, 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 vehicle 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 filters 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 local air quality status, I recommend using the AirNow site hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Fire, Weather, and Avalanche Center also hosts a page that shows live information about wildfire locations and smoke spread.
All of the things I’ve mentioned so far are things that can be prepared 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 human-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. And speaking of supporting our body during a poor air quality event, 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.
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 substitute for personal medical advice by a licensed health professional. Please see your doctor for recommendations on how to prepare if you are at particular risk for health events during poor air quality conditions.
Yours in health,
Dr. Tremblay holds degrees in horticulture, plant ecology and ethnomedicine, and a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. Her diverse background and personal experience with chronic disease gives her unique insights and experience in providing naturopathic care for patients. Read more >>