Staying healthy as wildfire smoke spreads

Wellness. Although there isn’t much that can be done about the hazy skies, there are things to do to stay safe during poor air quality days.

| 04 Jul 2023 | 07:43

Massive fires are burning up stretches of Canadian forests and sending plumes of smoke into the U.S. As a haze stretches over parts of the country, health authorities have raised the alarm about poor air quality.

Here’s how you can protect your health from the smoky haze.

Stay indoors - The small particles in wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and can affect the heart and lungs, making it harder to breathe. It’s important to limit outdoor activities as much as possible to avoid breathing in these particles, health agencies say. You should especially avoid strenuous activities like going for a run, since heavy breathing will increase the amount of smoke you inhale. And bring pets inside too, as they are also affected by smoky conditions.

Keep inside air clean - When inside, keep doors, windows and fireplaces shut so that smoke stays out. If you have a portable air purifier or HVAC system, run it to help keep the air clean, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Check that your filters are high quality and up to date. Make sure any filters or air conditioners are set to recirculate indoor air to avoid bringing in smoke from outside. If you have a window air conditioner, check that it’s sealed to the window as tightly as possible. Also try to avoid activities that would add more particles to the air in your home - like smoking, burning candles or frying meat.

Wear a mask - If you go outside in smoky conditions, consider wearing a mask, like an N95, to protect your lungs. The mask should fit over your nose and under your chin, and seal tightly to your face to keep out the smoky air.

Know your risk - Some groups should be extra careful as they face higher risks from wildfire smoke. Children and older adults are especially sensitive to smoky conditions. Those with health conditions affecting the lungs or heart - like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - face higher risks from poor air quality, along with those who are pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in these groups should take extra precautions and monitor for symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing or fatigue.