Up in Smoke - Tips for dealing with the poor air quality in Western Washington

Photo credit Dee Dee Wine

Photo credit Dee Dee Wine

     Are you feeling more fatigued, short of breath, light headed, or prone to headaches in the past week? Have you noticed your eyes are dry and itchy or that your allergies or asthma have ramped up all of a sudden? These are all symptoms from poor air quality caused by the recent fires in BC. The air quality in Bellingham and the greater Seattle area has reached “unhealthy” as the smoke continues to hang in the air. This is thought to be about the equivalent of smoking 8 cigarettes per day. Here are some tips for what you can do to stay healthy until the smoke calms down.

  1. Get a HEPA filter for inside your home. It would obviously be best to have one in every room but since we can’t all afford that luxury, make sure you put it in the rooms you use the most such as the bedroom where we are hopefully spending 7-9 hours per day.

  2. If you work outside wear a mask. Here is a resource for what kind of mask to get -  please note that these masks filter out fine particles that can damage lungs but do not filter out other things like carbon monoxide: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf.

  3. Put your outdoor exercise on hold until things get better. Going outside in the smoke filled air is bad enough, but when you increase your breath rate with exercise, you are increasing the amount of damaging smoke that reaches your lungs. You are also putting yourself at risk for injury as there may be a greater chance of falling or making a mistake if you become lightheaded or dizzy. Opt for exercising indoors - go for a walk in the mall or use an indoor gym if you can. If those are not an option, just put it on hold for now.

  4. If you smoke, quit… Okay, while you should quit, no one expects you to go cold turkey because mother nature started to take up the habit. If quitting is not on the agenda today, CUT DOWN the number of cigarettes you are having per day. Remember that this will also help the air quality of those around you. If you noticed any of the symptoms listed in the opening paragraph, hopefully this will be a reminder that smoking cigarettes causes similar problems on a daily basis, some of which you may have become accustomed to as part of life. Interested in quitting? Here is a free government resource: https://smokefree.gov/. If you want more support, make an appointment with Dr. Wine at https://www.drwinewellness.com/appointment/.

  5. Reduce your own emissions output to help with the overall air quality! This should be on your mind everyday, but when air quality gets this bad it is a good reminder that our cars, gas-powered lawn mowers or leaf blowers add pollutants into the air that affect our health as well as the overall health of the planet. Some ideas: Work from home if your company can give you that option, carpool or take public transit to reduce the total number of cars, and do not have bonfires or campfires.

  6. Check your or your child’s asthma action plan and make sure you know what to do if there is a severe asthma attack. Asthma sufferers are more sensitive to the smoke filled air and are at more or a risk than normal for getting an asthma attack. If you do not have an asthma plan talk to your doctor! The asthma action plan outlines how often you should use your inhaler or oral medications when there is an acute asthma attack and outlines when you should seek further medical attention. If in doubt, call your doctor or 911.

  7. Take breaks and get your rest! The smoke takes a toll on your body and can leave you easily tired or dizzy. If you are feeling tired or dizzy, please sit down inside, drink some water, and rest until you are feeling better.

  8. Check in on members of the family who may be more vulnerable to the effects of the smoke. Check in with any family members that have impaired lung function such as with asthma, lower respiratory infections, or COPD.

  9. Keep your pets inside as much as possible! Now is the perfect time to call and check in with the grandparents.

  10. Hang in there! The air quality is supposed to improve greatly by the weekend, so have patience and take care of your health!

Resources for this article include the American Lung Association and Washington State Department of Health.