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How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

The Woolsey and Camp California wildfires have devastated massive parts of California and ravaged communities in those regions. One byproduct has been heavy wildfire smoke enveloping many 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 the 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.

Cut down on your exposure

First of all, 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. Keep your car windows shut, too. You can run an air conditioner, but close down the outside air intake to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.

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.

Choose a mask carefully

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.

Use an air purifier

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.