Poor Air Quality can be the result of extreme heat or a nearby fire. Regardless of the cause, it is important to take appropriate actions to limit exposure.
In the event of poor air quality, individuals should take the following actions:
- Everyone should avoid outdoor activities even if you are healthy.
- Children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart conditions should be particularly careful to avoid exposure.
- Stay indoors with doors and windows closed as much as possible.
- Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan.
- Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms you believe to be caused by poor air quality.
- Those with heart disease should especially limit their exposure since particulate matter (PM)* can cause heart attacks.
* Fine particles of solid matter or liquid droplets from smoke, dust and fly ash.
Who is most affected by poor air quality?
Most healthy adults will recover quickly from exposures and will not suffer long-term consequences. However, certain sensitive populations may experience more severe short-term and chronic symptoms resulting from poor air quality. These include:
- Individuals with respiratory disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
- Individuals with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- People who smoke
What are some precautionary measures I can take?
- Pay attention to local air quality reports and stay alert to any news coverage or health warnings related to smoke.
- Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to go for a run. And it’s probably a good time for your children to remain indoors.
- If you’re advised to stay indoors, keep your windows and doors closed. Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Be sure to keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. If you are traveling by car, take the same precautions.
- Help keep particle levels inside low by avoiding using anything that burns, including wood stoves, gas stoves and candles if possible. And don’t smoke. That just puts even more pollution in your lungs – and those of the people around you.
- If you have asthma, be sure to take your medicines, as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re supposed to measure your peak flows, make sure you do. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
The following index is useful in judging the air quality levels if you do not have access to the internet.
- Good (can see 10 miles or more) - No cautionary statements.
- Moderate (can see 5-10 miles) - Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.
- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (can see 3-5 miles) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
- Unhealthy (can see 1½ -3 miles) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
- Very Unhealthy (can see 1-1½ mile) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.
- Hazardous (can see 1 mile or less) - Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.
What is in wildfire smoke?
Smoke is made up particles, gases and water vapor. Water vapor makes up the major percentage of smoke. The remainder is carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, air toxics and very small particles. Particles from smoke tend to be very small - less than one micrometer in diameter. Such small particles can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lung and are thought to represent a greater health concern than larger particles.
What are the health effects of smoke?
The effects of smoke range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma, and premature death. Studies have found that fine particles are linked (alone or with other pollutants) with aggravation of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. In addition, particles are respiratory irritants, and exposures to high concentrations of particulate matter can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Particles can also affect healthy people, causing respiratory symptoms, reduced lung function and lung inflammation. Particulate matter can also affect the body’s immune system and make it more difficult to remove inhaled foreign materials from the lung, such as pollen and bacteria. The principal public health threat from short-term exposures to smoke is considered to come from exposure to particulate matter.
Do dust masks or air filters help?
Paper “comfort” or “nuisance” masks are designed to trap large dust particles — not the tiny particles found in smoke. These masks generally will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. On the other hand, air filters do help. Indoor air filtration devices with HEPA filters can reduce the levels of particles indoors. Make sure to change the filter regularly. Don’t use an ozone-generating air cleaner. That puts more pollution in your home.