Memorial Regional Health: Don’t let wildfire smoke harm your lungs — As wildfires burn in Colorado, it’s important to protect yourself when air quality is poor
- Pay attention to air quality reports at airnow.gov, or colorado.gov/airquality/air_quality.aspx.
- Use your best judgment. If it looks or smells smokey outside, don’t engage in outdoor activities.
- Wear the proper masks. Particulate respirator masks will say N-95 or P-100 on the package. They must be worn properly to be effective.
- If the county advises residents to remain indoors, try to keep indoor air clean by keeping windows and doors closed, unless it’s extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, and keep the filter clean. Open windows to air out the house when air quality improves. If it’s too hot to stay inside without opening doors and windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Try to avoid using anything inside that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves, or candles. Don’t vacuum, and don’t smoke.
- If you have lung conditions, take medicine as prescribed, and call your doctor if symptoms worsen.
- If you have heart disease, call your doctor if symptoms worsen. If you think you’re having a heart attack or stroke, dial 911.
- Get air quality information: If there is an active fire in your area, follow your local news, the airnow.gov website, or your state air quality website for up-to-date information.
- Learn more about smoke and health: See Wildfire Smoke, A Guide for Public Health Officials, at www3.epa.gov/airnow/wildfire_may2016.pdf
- For information about home air cleaners, visit epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/guide-air-cleaners-home.
- For a list of certified air cleaning devices, visit arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/aircleaners/certified.htm
- Learn the right way to use an N-95 or P-100 particulate respirator maskat bepreparedcalifornia.ca.gov/resourcesandlinks/languages/documents/english/eng_protectlungssmoke7208color.pdf
- What to do before, during and after a wildfire: emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/index.asp
The smell of wildfires in the air can be common during summer in Colorado, but danger lurks, even for communities outside of the wildfire’s path.
Some people are more sensitive to wildfire smoke than others, but the contents of wildfire smoke are dangerous for everyone. Smoke is made up of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index.
“These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases,” according to the Air Quality Index. “Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.”
Who’s at risk?
Wildfires near Craig this summer are especially dangerous for those with underlying lung conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“If you have an underlying lung condition, try to stay inside and keep your windows closed, if possible,” said Memorial Regional Health Respiratory Therapist Anessa Kopsa.
Older adults, pregnant women, and people with heart disease and diabetes also have a higher risk of complications from breathing wildfire smoke.
With the summer heat, many residents around Craig leave their windows open — especially if they do not have air conditioning in their homes. Unfortunately, even air conditioning units can suck the smoky air into the home.
Check local air quality reports at airnow.gov to see what the pollution levels are in the area each day. And, anyone with lung conditions should also keep N-95 or P-100 masks on hand and know how to correctly use them. These masks, called particulate respirators, can protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. They’re sold at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies.
Kopsa said that, even wearing a handkerchief over your mouth when outside can be more helpful than nothing, but she recommends buying the proper respirator masks for reliable protection.
Kopsa said it’s important to go inside if you start coughing. Anyone with an underlying condition that can flare-up, such asthma or COPD, can end up in the hospital when smoke irritates their lungs.
“Coughing is one of the first clues that your lungs are irritated,” Kopsa said. “If you’re in distress, don’t wait too long — go to the emergency room or go see your doctor.”
People without underlying conditions might experience some shortness of breath and coughing, too. That’s why it’s a good rule of thumb for everyone to stay indoors as much as possible when air quality is poor.
I spent this past Saturday morning preparing for Sunday’s lunch branding — at least what I could get done early. I cooked pasta and boiled eggs. I made a gelatin salad. I decided to bake a banana cake, a family favorite, for dessert.