August 5, 2014 in Features, Health

Check air reports, stay inside when smoke from wildfires takes over skies

Associated Press photo

Wind whips a U.S. flag and a Washington state flag as smoke from wildfires fills the air near Pateros, Wash., on July 18.
(Full-size photo)

Smoke in your lungs? Here’s how to avoid hazardous particles during wildfire season:

• Check air quality reports. They’re updated hourly on the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency’s website ( current-air-quality), where residents also can sign up to get air quality information sent to their smartphones.

That’s especially important for “people that have young children, people that are aged, people that have respiratory or cardiac conditions,” Dr. Steven Kernerman said. “If they see that it’s edging into the zone where it’s caution for people that are more sensitive, they should pay more attention to that.”

• Stay inside, if you can. If the sky is smoky, it’s not a good time for a jog or a trip to the park with the kids, Kernerman added.

• But if you must go: Respiratory therapist Sheri Watkins tells patients to push the button on their vehicle’s dash that circulates the air already inside the car rather than pulling in dirty air from outside.

• If you have an air conditioner in your home, run it – even if it’s not very hot outside. The filter cleans the air.

Portable air cleaners also can help remove particles, if you get the right kind. The Environmental Protection Agency offers information about residential air cleaners online ( iaq/pubs/residair.html).

• Don’t add to the problem by burning candles or lighting wood stoves or fireplaces, all of which send particles into the air. The clean-air agency also advises against vacuuming when the air is smoky. It stirs up particles already inside your home

• And don’t bother with dust masks. Basic masks that can help keep out dust and other large particles won’t work against smoke, Watkins tells her patients.

• But if you want to use a mask: Look for one at the hardware store labeled “N95” or “N100.” These masks filter out fine particles, according to the Washington state Department of Health. Choose a mask with two straps that go around your head. And consider that they don’t work well on young children or people with beards.

• Plan ahead for a serious situation. The clean-air agency advises people with heart or lung disease, older adults and families with children to talk with their doctors about whether and when to leave the area.

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