SMOKE

A gull looks out from Pike Place Market as wildfire smoke blankets Seattle Saturday.

The air quality in many Western states has fallen to “very unhealthy” or even “hazardous” levels as wildfires continue to scorch the region, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index shows.

Some residents have complained about having allergy-like symptoms in areas with heavy smoke, the Oregonian reported.

Among the complaints:

  • “I woke up this morning with my head just pounding.”
  • “I haven’t had a headache like this in a long time.”
  • “We’ve had our windows closed for days, but I’m waking up every morning with a sore throat and dry nasal passage.”

They are among the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure, according to UC Health. Other symptoms include stinging eyes, wheezing, chest pains, runny nose and asthma attacks, UC Health says.

Smoke contains hazardous chemicals like carbon monoxide, aldehydes and “tiny particles of solid matter that are small enough to be inhaled,” according to the U.S. Forest Service. The particles negatively impact everyone’s health, but they’re especially harsh on those with asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Cedar Sinai Hospital said.

“Unfortunately whenever there’s a wildfire, we see a lot of people with chronic respiratory problems whose symptoms get worse,” Dr. Peter Chen, director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Cedar Sinai, said. “Although the long-term dangers of exposure to wildfire smoke are unclear, in the short term it can be harmful.”

Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said the smartest thing to do is stay indoors, according to an article on the school’s website.

“My advice to the public is that people should be sheltering in place as much as possible,” Balmes said. “Stay home with windows closed, ventilation turned to recirculate, and if possible, have a clean air room with a HEPA air purifying appliance.”

Also, avoid unnecessary exercise inside and outside, do not burn candles, vacuum or use aerosol sprays, according to Cedar Sinai.

And, of course, you can always wear your mask.

Balmes said N95 masks are best, but surgical masks are easier to obtain and will provide some protection against wildfire smoke, Balmes said.

Cloth masks don’t offer protection from smoke, Balmes said, but they still serve a purpose during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you can’t get a surgical or a N95 mask, wear a cloth mask because the most important thing is to protect others from the virus,” Balmes said.