How Canadian Wildfire Smoke Affects Your Health

Smoke from wildfires in Canada triggered air quality alerts in more than a dozen U.S. states on Wednesday, with health officials warning people in sensitive groups, such as children, the elderly or people with respiratory problems, to limit their time outdoors or to stay indoors.

Yahoo News spoke to health experts who explained how smoke from wildfires affects your health, what you can do to protect yourself and how long the effects of the thick orange haze that blankets a much of the country.

OK, first of all, how do I check the air quality where I am?

Residents of Queens, NY wear protective face masks as the Roosevelt Island Light Rail crosses the East River as mist and smoke from the Canadian wildfires shroud the Manhattan skyline on Wednesday.  (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Residents of Queens, NY wear protective face masks as the Roosevelt Island Light Rail crosses the East River as mist and smoke from the Canadian wildfires shroud the Manhattan skyline on Wednesday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“The U.S. Air Quality Index is getting a lot of media attention right now, but it’s really fantastic,” says Dr. Brady Scott, member of the American Association for Respiratory Care. “Because you can just type in your zip code and kind of figure out the air quality is where you are. If it’s green or yellow, it’s OK for most people. When it is orange, it is feared that viscous people, especially those with respiratory problems, may be impacted when you are in the red zone and certainly when we are in the purple or brown zones, even if you are a person said to be healthy. ”

So I just did it and it says I’m in an air quality alert area. I can see and smell the smoke. What are my main health problems?

A jogger watches as smoke and haze from the Canadian wildfires blanket the National Mall in Washington, DC on Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A jogger watches as smoke and haze from the Canadian wildfires blanket the National Mall in Washington, DC on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“Particle levels are so high that even for a normal person without any underlying medical conditions, it can still be unhealthy and dangerous if there is long-term exposure,” says Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist/immunologist at Allergy & Asthma. Network. “The longer you’re exposed to it, the more likely it is to cause problems. And what happens with smoke is that those fine particles can get deep into your lungs, and those particles contain products chemicals, pollution, carbon monoxide that can damage your lungs. So over time it can cause inflammation. And for some people, if you’re constantly exposed, it can even turn into conditions like asthma. .

What is considered long-term exposure? Like a few hours?

“Yeah. But like everything in medicine, it depends on the individual and your baseline health,” says Parikh. “So if you’re a very healthy person, you know, a few hours with a mask on, uh, should be okay, with no long term consequences But if you exercise outdoors or you’re pregnant, or an elderly person with heart or lung disease, or someone who already has an underlying lung or immune disease, I would try to limit that exposure as much as possible.”

Is wildfire smoke the reason my allergies have gotten worse in the last few days?

A child gestures in Times Square as Manhattan is shrouded in haze and smoke from Canada's wildfires on Wednesday.  (Maye-E Wong/Reuters)

A child gestures in Times Square as Manhattan is shrouded in haze and smoke from Canada’s wildfires on Wednesday. (Maye-E Wong/Reuters)

“Absolutely,” Parikh said. “It can make your allergies worse because it basically amplifies them, adding more inflammation, so your symptoms are a lot worse as well. This makes your eyes burn and your skin itches more. Same thing with your cough – more coughing, wheezing, more asthma attacks. And if you have sinus allergies, it can definitely make it worse, because that’s the first point of entry for wildfire smoke – through your nose.

Authorities are encouraging people, especially children or those with underlying conditions, such as asthma, to limit outdoor activities or stay indoors. What if I have to go out? Should I wear a mask?

“So the best thing to do is check the air quality, and if it’s at an unhealthy level and you can stay indoors, that’s the best thing to do,” Parikh says. “But if you can’t and absolutely have to go outside, we actually recommend that you wear a mask to limit your exposure. And medical-grade N95 or KN95 masks are the best, similar to COVID times, because they reduce some of those particles that get into your lungs. But even a surgical mask or any kind of barrier is helpful. »

Wait, I read that while N95s can protect against fine particulates, they don’t protect against dangerous gases in wildfire smoke. Is it true?

“It’s true, it’s very likely that we are even exposed to some of the gases,” Parikh says. “With this N95 mask, you can’t filter everything out. I mean, you see how foggy it is in New York, you can’t see the buildings down the street. That’s why even with the mask, we recommend limiting the time spent outdoors as much as possible.

What about pets?

A person walks dogs as hazy smoke from Canada's wildfires hangs over New York on Wednesday.  (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

A person walks dogs as hazy smoke from Canada’s wildfires hangs over New York on Wednesday. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

“Absolutely,” Parikh said. “Pets are also at risk as they are unfortunately afflicted with many of the same lung conditions as us humans. So of course they are at risk as well.

“I would be concerned about having a pet outside for long periods of time or having them put in a lot of effort, you know, exercising or running,” Scott says. “The thing is, they breathe the same air we do and that could lead to irritation in the airways and create breathing difficulties for them as well.”

How long will our exhibition last?

“One of the challenges with smoke from wildfires is that it’s really dependent on the weather – how the wind carries the smoke or the rain in the forecast,” says William Barrett, senior national director of defense for clean air at the American Lung Association. “The main concern with exposure to smoke from wildfires is that particulate pollution can persist and hang around for long periods of time and it often takes changes in wind or precipitation patterns to reverse it, moving out of the area. This is what moves wildfire smoke through the community and what will eventually push it out. »

When the smoke clears, what should people who still have symptoms do?

“So let’s say once the air quality hopefully returns to normal or safe levels and you notice that you still have any kind of symptoms a week or two later, you should be examined by a doctor,” Parikh said. “Because what happens is sometimes the exposure can weaken your lungs, weaken your sinuses, and then predispose you to develop allergies or leave inflammation.”

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