The American Lung Association is advising residents throughout the region to take extra precautions to protect their lung health due to the intense wildfire smoke.
Smoke and ash from the wildfires, which can, and has, rapidly spread to neighboring counties and even several other states in the west, can damage lungs and cause exacerbations of respiratory disease. The public and especially vulnerable groups such as chronic lung disease patients, the elderly, children, pregnant women and outside workers, need to exercise caution.
Protecting lung health should be part of a wildfire emergency plan.
The Lung Association recommends these steps:
- Stay indoors: People living close to the fire-stricken areas should remain indoors, unless prompted by local officials to evacuate, and avoid breathing smoke, ashes and other pollution in the area.
- Don't exercise outside: If you live close to or in the surrounding area, don't exercise outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
- Don't count on a dust mask: Ordinary dust masks, designed to filter out large particles, and cloth facial coverings will not help. They still allow the more dangerous smaller particles to pass through. Special, more expensive dust masks with an N-95 or N-100 filter will filter out the damaging fine particles, but may not fit properly and are difficult for people with lung disease to use. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, N95 masks may not be readily available due to shortages and because they are needed for frontline health care workers. If you have lung disease, consult with your doctor before using a N95 mask. These masks can make it more difficult for anyone to breathe and should only be used if you must go outside.
- Take precautions for kids: Extra precaution should be taken for children, who are more susceptible to smoke. Their lungs are still developing, and they breathe in more air (and consequently more pollution) for their size than adults. N-95 m=masks should not be used for children because they will likely not fit properly.
- Roll up your car windows: When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed, and operate on "recirculate" setting, including when using air conditioning.
- Protect the air in your home: Stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut and preferably with clean air circulating through air conditioners and air cleaners. Use air conditioners on the recirculation setting to keep from pulling outside air into the room. Air cleaning devices that have HEPA filters can provide added protection from the soot and smoke. Place damp towels under the doors and other places where the outside air may leak in.
- Prepare to evacuate if directed. Listen very closely to your local or state officials and act when ordered to protect yourself and your family. In advance, prepare any medications, medical devices, emergency contact information and a list of prescriptions to take with you.
For an exhaustive list of recommendations to protect lung health during wildfires, see this handy Wildfire Preparedness Flyer. This information is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Russian.
For more resources, including an in-depth blog on COVID-19 and Wildfires, along with general information on respiratory health during wildfires, visit Lung.org/wildfires.