Well-Adjusted Avoiding the Dangers of Wildfire Smoke
By Dr. Melanie Brown
As the smoke rolls over the mountains from nearby fires, I can feel that particular type of headache setting in that accompanies the polluted air. It reminds me that it is time to employ strategies to minimize and manage toxic exposure during wildfire season.
Why is wildfire smoke so dangerous?
Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles made up of burned solids and liquids. The energy from the fire that turns matter into smoke also leaves behind free radicals and other toxic substances. Due to their small size (less than 2.5 microns), these particles are small enough to get into your lungs and pass from your bloodstream to the entire body.
Exposure to smoke can result in symptoms such as itchy or irritated eyes, coughing, chest pain, irritated sinuses, wheezing, fast heartbeat, headaches, elevated blood pressure and more. Repeated exposure over time can lead to chronic illnesses related to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Aside from taking a well-timed vacation, how can we minimize our risk during wildfire season?
Stay inside or mask up.
Surrounded by millions of trees, we enjoy some of the cleanest air in the world for most of the year. And although most of us don’t appreciate being indoors during the summer or wearing masks, it benefits our health when the smoke comes through. Monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI) and stay indoors when the AQI reaches unhealthy levels. If you must go outdoors, wear a mask when AQI levels are over 100. Well-fitting N95, KF94 and KN95 masks will offer the best protection. Cloth and surgical masks are better than nothing but will not filter out the smaller particles that can damage your body.
Maximize indoor air quality.
Keep windows closed and replace furnace filters. Aubrey from Sunset Heating & Cooling recommends upgrading furnace filters to CAL 16 or 20 or MERV 13 or higher (if your system allows) to maximize air quality. Smoke will enter the home when we open doors and will seep through cracks and leaks. If you have central air, keep your fan in the “on” position to keep it running continuously to cycle air through the filter. If your system has a fresh air intake, set it to recirculation mode or close the outdoor intake damper so you do not draw toxic air inside. If you don’t have central air or want to maximize air quality further, you can attach furnace filters to box fans or run air purifiers to clean the indoor air. Adding indoor plants will create natural air filtration. Spider plants, philodendrons and snake plants are some of the best air-cleaning options.
Optimize the terrain of your body.
Analyze what you are putting in your body. Your “trigger” for symptoms is lighter when you have more toxic build-up in your body. If your toxic load is lower, you will get fewer symptoms from outside irritants. Avoid inflammatory foods. If you are unfamiliar, look up the anti-inflammatory diet and adopt the principles into your daily habits. Plan ahead for meals and have healthy groceries on hand. Shop the “outside” aisles of the grocery store, avoiding processed foods. Eat healthy organic food with lots of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats and limited carbs. Avoid refined sugar, fried food, sodas, chemical additives and dyes. Use honey and maple syrup for sweeteners. If you are trying to make positive changes in your diet but feel overwhelmed, consider the 80/20 rule, where you are more strict 80% of the time and more relaxed 20% of the time on your diet parameters. This concept works well with eating more cleanly during the work week and indulging more (but not going crazy) on the weekends.
Stay hydrated. Your body has natural filtration systems in various organs, which require adequate water to function correctly. Drink a minimum of half your body weight in ounces daily to help your body eliminate toxins by regularly flushing it with filtered or spring water. Add electrolytes if you exercise for over an hour or are in excessive heat.
Get bodywork. Massage moves toxins from the body, which are stuck in sore points in the muscle. Massage also increases blood and lymphatic circulation, which aids in detoxification. Chiropractic adjustments can improve pain-free movement and help your nerves, muscles, joints and organs to function correctly. Acupuncture can assist the body in toxin release and can clear nerve, blood circulation or lymphatic flow blockages.
Move your body. Your body requires movement for circulation. Circulation helps the body eliminate toxins, and so does a good sweat! Find creative ways to exercise indoors, such as going to the gym, jumping rope, running in place, doing floor exercises, workout videos or yoga.
Hopefully, it will rain soon to clear the air and calm the fires. Until then, employ some of these strategies to weather the smoke storm.