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A Swedish expert offers tips for keeping you and your family safe during wildfire season.
Smoky air can be especially dangerous for young children, those over 65 and anyone with a chronic health condition.
Stay inside as much as possible; we may not realize how much smoke we are in haling during everyday activities and be sure to check daily air quality reports.
With 2022's wildfire season bringing historically bad air quality to the Seattle area, we are revisiting some 2021 advice from Elizabeth Meade, M.D., FAA, IBCLC, Swedish’s medical director of education, outreach and quality, pediatrics, about protecting our health during smoky season.
In Washington state, wildfires are unfortunately becoming a new normal. The last few years have brought big burns that have eclipsed the summers with smoke, limiting the outdoor activities that this part of the country is known for. While you may not individually be able to control whether fires occur—other than doing your part by adhering to burn bans, always practicing fire safety, and following rules and recommendations around starting fires—you can use some tactics to mitigate effects on our health. Here are my tips on how to stay healthy amidst smoky skies.
According to @KSeattleWeather, #Seattle has the worst air quality of any big city on the planet for the second day in a row today - Read these #tips on how to stay #healthy amidst smoky skies:https://t.co/JRB8rQ1jfA— Providence Swedish (@ProvSwedish) October 20, 2022
Stay inside as much as possible. This may seem like common sense, but you don’t always recognize how much smoke you inhale by just doing everyday outdoor activities like checking the mail, walking into a store or watering the plants. It’s especially important to avoid outdoor exercise, or any outdoor activities that cause faster or deeper breathing – this increases the number of smoke particles you inhale during a given period of time. Staying indoors is recommended for everyone, but especially for young children, those over 65, pregnant women, or anyone with a chronic health condition (especially heart or lung disease).
While you are inside:
- Check air quality reports daily. This can help determine which days to completely avoid outdoor activities, and which days may be safer if there are things to tend to outside like gardening or housework. Check with schools to see if they are limiting outdoor playtime and sports practices.
- Keep the inside air as clean as possible. Doors and windows should stay closed. It may also help to use an indoor HEPA air filter.
- Limit particulate matter or smoke. This means no candles, indoor fires, smoking, or vacuuming. Limit gas stove usage or cooking indoors.
Wear a mask to reduce smoke inhalation, especially if you are at high risk of complications from smoke exposure or work outside. Bandanas, scarves, and simple/cloth face masks do not protect from fine particles – for this purpose, use a properly fitting mask labeled N95 or N100. It’s important to note that these masks are unlikely to fit infants, small children, or those with beards. N95 or N100 masks can also make breathing more difficult for some people with chronic health problems. If you have heart disease, lung problems, or any chronic illness, check with your physician, caregiver or advanced practice clinician (APC) before going outside or using a mask.
If you have a chronic health condition
If you have chronic heart or lung disease, make sure you have an ample supply of your medications and inhalers with you. If you start having symptoms like difficulty breathing or coughing, seek treatment right away. If the air in your area is particularly bad, check with your doctor to ask if you should change or increase any of your preventative medications.
Find a doctor
Wildfire season can affect you in many ways. From being stuck indoors to inhaling smoke outdoors, it can be tricky to navigate. Find a physician you trust to help you and your family with wildfire safety resources in our provider directory.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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