How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke
A line of flames atop a hill, with smoke billowing above it.

A wildfire as seen from a Canadian Forces helicopter near Mistestine, Quebec, on June 12. (Cpl Marc-André Leclerc/Canadian Forces/Report via Reuters)

Just weeks after Canadian wildfires blanketed the US Northeast in thick smoke, continuing fires are sending more across the Midwest The air is unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Detroit and Cleveland currently experience air considered “very unhealthy” with air quality index (AQI) readings over 200.

It could be exposure to wildfire smoke Harmful to human healthcausing symptoms ranging from eye and respiratory irritation to asthma attacks and heart failure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For millions of Americans in the eastern half of the United States, current air quality conditions are their first exposure to intense wildfire smoke. The following are recommendations from public health authorities on how to protect yourself:

Watch AQI

Thick smog blankets a major artery in Vancouver, where traffic lights pierce the gloom.

Buildings are shrouded in thick smog in Vancouver, September 13, 2020. (Liang Sen/Xinhua via Getty) It measures the presence of five major pollutants and calculates a scale from 0 to 500. You can even search for your zip code specifically.

Smoke can move quickly, depending on wind patterns, so when there is smoke in your area, you may want to check multiple times throughout the day, especially before planning any strenuous outdoor activities. If the air quality is in the red, which means the air quality index is between 150 and 200, the air is considered unhealthy to breathe. For anything higher (purple 200-300 and maroon 300-500), everyone is advised to stay indoors.

For people who have long-term lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and the novel coronavirus, limiting themselves to indoor activities also applies when the air is rated orange, as “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with heart disease They are also at elevated risk, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“When it’s orange, there’s a concern that some people, especially those with respiratory conditions, might be affected,” Dr. Brady Scott, a fellow with the American Respiratory Association, told Yahoo News earlier this month. “When you’re in the red, and certainly when we’re in the purple or maroon, everyone’s at risk, even if you’re one of those who are called a healthy person.”

Keep indoor air clean

Someone selects a setting on an air purifier.

Air purifiers can help improve indoor conditions. (Getty Images)

During wildfire smoke events, you also need to keep indoor air clean, which means closing windows and, if necessary, using an air filtration system or single room air purifier. Experts also advise running an air conditioner with air recirculated inside the home, rather than bringing in air from outside.

“Air purifiers with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter pull in smoke, trap particles, and blast clean air,” says Dr. Raymond Casciari, MD, a pulmonologist at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Yahoo Live said.

If you can’t get an air purifier right away, says the Environmental Protection Agency You can make an air cleaner by “attaching a furnace filter to a box fan with tape, brackets, or bungee cord,” though its effectiveness is not guaranteed, since research is lacking. The agency recommends changing filters if they become dirty or smell like smoke.

hide outside

Man wearing baseball mask and cap against enveloping Manhattan skyline.

A man wearing an N95 mask walks along a waterfront in West New York, NJ, on June 8, with the Manhattan skyline behind him. (Leonardo Munoz/AFP via Getty Images)

If you go outside when the air is considered unhealthy, experts encourage you to wear a mask, especially if you’re going to be outside for a long time. The same masks that work best at reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 provide the most protection from smoke.

“You want to think of two Fs — filtration and fit. When it comes to filtration, you want a high-quality mask, whether it’s N95 or KF94Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. said. “You want this mask to fit snugly against your face, so that all the air you breathe is forced through the mask filter.”

KN95 also provides protection from wildfire smoke, but surgical and cloth masks filter less and don’t fit as tightly.

Mental health may also be affected

In the western half of the country, where wildfire smoke is an increasingly common problem due to climate change, many residents have seen their favorite summer activities interrupted more frequently.

In the westDavid Knowles, senior editor at Yahoo News in California, wrote recently:

If this sounds depressing, it is.

A 2022 study published in the journal BMC Public Health that looked at those affected by wildfires on the West Coast found that “45.3% reported feeling anxious because of the smoke, and 21.4% reported feeling depressed because of the smoke,” Knowles said.

So watch your sanity, and keep hope alive: The air patterns that bring smoke into the city can easily work on a dime and take it away.

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