Tips for staying healthy during smoky conditions

·3 min read

Aug. 2—Jackson County Public Health is advising people to keep an eye on smoke conditions and take steps to protect themselves when air quality worsens.

Smoke levels can rise and fall quickly based on shifting winds and the volume of smoke produced by local and regional fires, public health officials said.

Check the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's air quality website at oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map for updates on smoke conditions at monitoring sites around the state, including Ashland, Talent, Medford, Shady Cove and Grants Pass. To get the DEQ mobile app, look for OregonAir in your phone's app store.

Keep in mind the number of monitoring sites is limited, and pollution levels may be higher in some areas, public health officials advise.

DEQ has issued an air quality advisory through Friday for Jackson and Klamath counties due to smoke from the McKinney Fire, which has burned more than 56,000 acres near Yreka in Northern California.

Visit the Oregon Smoke Information Blog at oregonsmoke.org for updated air quality advisories, wildfire smoke forecasts and other information.

Exposure to wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function, worsen chronic heart and lung disease and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Particles larger than 10 micrometers usually irritate only the eyes, nose and throat. Fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs and enter the bloodstream, public health officials warn.

People known to be especially vulnerable to smoke exposure include:

* Children younger than 18 years and adults 65 years or older

* Pregnant women

* People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma and diabetes

* Outdoor workers

* People of low socioeconomic status, including those who are homeless and with limited access to medical care

* People who have had COVID-19 and are recovering from the virus

During smoky conditions, public health officials advise people to take the following precautions:

* Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with the highest concentrations.

* Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.

* Stay indoors with doors and windows closed. Use air conditioning to keep your home cool if it becomes too warm.

* Reduce or eliminate other activities that produce airborne particles, including smoking, using gas or wood‐burning stoves or furnaces, spraying aerosols including air fresheners, frying or broiling meat, burning candles or incense and vacuuming.

* High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and electro-static precipitator (ESP) filters can help provide protection. HEPA filters trap or remove harmful particles in the air. If such options are unavailable, create a makeshift air filter by attaching a filter to a box fan.

* When riding in a car, keep windows and vents closed, air conditioning on and set ventilation to recirculate.

* Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can keep your airways moist, which helps reduce symptoms of respiratory irritation such as scratchy throat, running nose and coughing.

* People exposed to smoky conditions who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their health care providers.

If you must be outdoors when air quality is poor, wearing a special mask called a particulate respirator can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. Choose a mask called that has NIOSH and either N95 or P100 printed on it.

Make sure the respirator fits properly and that air doesn't leak around the sides. People with facial hair will not be able to get a good seal. If the mask doesn't fit properly, the respirator will not provide good protection and may offer the wearer a false sense of protection.

Particulate respirators can make breathing more difficult, increase breathing and heart rate and contribute to heat stress. They should be used by people with heart and respiratory diseases only under a doctor's supervision. Even healthy adults may find the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods, public health officials said.