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4 ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

In recent years, as wildfires have devastated communities around the world, one dangerous byproduct has received less attention: wildfire smoke. In the wake of a fire, heavy smoke envelops the surrounding areas, creating severe air pollution levels with serious health effects. That’s because the thick smoke fills the air with harmful particles, causing everything from coughing to long-term health conditions, such as lung and cardiac diseases.

If you live in or near an affected area, it’s difficult to protect yourself and your family completely from this pollution, but there are steps you can take to minimize the harmful effects.

1. Know your risk

Smoke travels

The impact from wildfires goes far beyond the flames. Wildfire smoke can travel for many miles and pose a health threat. Just like people in wildfire zones are advised to create “defensible space” around their homes, it’s also crucial for people in proximity to wildfire areas to protect themselves from wildfire smoke.

Air quality is affected

Climate scientists and meteorologists have seen prevailing winds carrying wildfire smoke across the continent. As plumes rise to 20,000 feet and above, they get caught up in the jetstream — high-altitude currents that circuit air quickly from west to east. In the best-case scenario, pollutants don’t set off air-quality alerts, but instead create colorful sunsets; in the worst-case scenario, air quality can plummet to unhealthy levels.

Wildfire smoke is worse than other types

When a wildfire burns through a community, it consumes everything in its path. This includes all kinds of household materials, like rubber, plastics, metals and more. In the heat of the fire, these materials become tiny, airborne toxins. The fine particles then irritate people’s eyes and throats. They can also cause respiratory issues if taken into the lungs. Further, one study revealed that elderly people, children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the particles released from wildfires.

2. Cut down on your exposure

Stay indoors if you can

If you must be outside, reduce strenuous exercise. Best is to stay indoors with the doors and windows closed: By doing so, you can reduce indoor pollutant levels by 50 percent. This is especially important for children, the elderly and those with heart or respiratory problems. Remember to keep your car windows shut, too.

Do air conditioners filter wildfire smoke?

While indoors during wildfire season, you can run an air conditioner, but it’s important to close down the outside air intake to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If the intake is open, the filter on commercial air conditioners will not catch dangerous particles from wildfire smoke.

Keep your indoor air clean

Also, avoid activities that can increase indoor air pollution. For example, if you’re cleaning your home, don’t use items likely to introduce extra chemicals into the air, like aerosol cleaning products. And avoid burning candles, using gas stoves and vacuuming.

3. Choose a mask carefully

Smaller particles are more dangerous

The hazardous particles in wildfire smoke come in various sizes, but the smallest are the most dangerous. Because they’re so tiny, they’re able to make their way deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing everything from asthma attacks to cancer. In addition, the combination of different gases in smoke clouds can form surface-based ozone, which also can lead to health problems.

Respirator masks are best

A scarf or bandanna won’t filter out many pollutants. Probably no surprise there. But neither will dust masks designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. More effective are respirator masks. Sold at many hardware and home repair stores, as well as pharmacies, they filter out fine particles. Look for masks labeled N95 or N100, which denotes, among other things, the percentage of particles that are blocked.

Choose a size that will fit over your nose and under your chin and create a tight seal over your face. At the same time, be aware there can be risks to wearing a mask, partly because they can make it difficult for wearers to get enough oxygen.

4.Use an air purifier

An air purifier for wildfire smoke

Air purifiers with a HEPA filter, like Coway Airmega’s smart air purifier, help to eliminate certain particulate matter and other pollutants from your home. It’s best to place the device in rooms where you spent a lot of time, like the bedroom or kitchen, to reduce the total amount of harmful air you inhale.

The Coway Airmega constantly monitors indoor air quality. When the unit senses a decrease in air quality, it automatically activates the air purification process and removes harmful particles. Even in the event of a distant wildfire, the Coway Airmega can provide safe, clean air for you and your family.