Millions of people in the US are on air quality alert as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts up the East Coast. Some schools in New York and Washington are canceling outdoor activities.
Smoke can also cause health problems such as difficulty breathing, burning eyes, dizziness, headache or nausea. Doctors say people whose symptoms worsen should seek medical attention.
Here’s how doctors answered some key questions about smoking:
Why does wildfire smoke make breathing difficult?
Dr. Shilpa PatelThe medical director of Children’s National Impact DC Asthma Clinic in Washington, D.C., says wildfire smoke is “tiny, tiny particles that go deep into the airways. It’s not an allergen; it’s an irritant. So an irritant can affect anyone’s lungs. Make you cough and have a scratchy throat.”
Is there any way to protect people while outside?
Our bodies come with certain natural defenses, accordingly Dr. Ida GaboPulmonologist at Meridian Palisades Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey.
“Our nose hairs can grow Protect us from a lot of these particles. But these are really small particles from wildfires, so it’s not enough,” Capo said.
“The recommendation is not to be outside, but if you want to wear a mask to help, absolutely wear one, and then make sure it’s an N95, not a surgical mask. A surgical mask is not going to protect you from getting these particles in your airways because it’s not good enough. “If you have to be outside, the N95 will reduce some of these small particles in your airways, but they have to be worn properly, and it’s difficult to wear an N95 for long periods of time,” he said.
Patel said you should avoid any strenuous physical activity like running or jogging. You need to be in tune with your body throughout the day. Air quality can affect you later “because these are small particles, so they go deep into your airways, and the response can be a little bit delayed,” Patel said.
What contributes to indoor air quality?
Close your windows and turn on your air conditioner and air filters, Cappo suggests.
Dr. A.S. Peter DeCarloAssociate Professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University agrees.
“When it comes to particulates, indoor air pollution concentrations are typically half or less than outside air pollution, which is what we’re looking at here. Once you open your windows and doors and let free-flowing air come in, it all goes away,” he said.
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