With Central Oregon air quality among the worst in the world Monday, it’s a good time to be reminded of who is most at risk for health problems due to poor air quality and how to protect yourself.
The following is information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Who is at greatest risk from wildfire smoke?
- People who have lung diseases like COPD or asthma, or heart disease, are at higher risk from wildfire smoke.
- Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke. This may be due to their increased risk of heart and lung diseases.
- Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke. Children’s airways are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Also, children often spend more time outdoors engaged in activity and play.
- Expectant mothers may be more likely to be affected by smoke because of physical changes during pregnancy, like increased breathing rates. Expectant mothers affected by smoke may also be at risk for problems such as preterm birth and babies born with low birth weight.
Take steps to reduce your risk from wildfire smoke
Check local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) or check the AirNow fire and smoke map. In addition, pay attention to public health messages about safety measures.
Consult local visibility guides. Some communities have monitors that measure the amount of particles in the air. In the western United States, some states and communities have guidelines to help people determine if there are high levels of particulates in the air by how far they can see.
Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, go to a designated shelter away from the affected area.
Keep smoke outside
- Choose a room you can close off from outside air.
- Set up a portable air cleaner or a filter to keep the air in this room clean even when it’s smoky in the rest of the building and outdoors. If you use a do-it-yourself box fan filtration unit, never leave it unattended.
Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. Burning candles, fireplaces, and gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, contributing to indoor pollution. Smoking also puts even more pollution into the air.
Follow the advice of your doctor or other health care provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Consider evacuating if you are having trouble breathing. Call your doctor for advice if your symptoms worsen.
If you are pregnant, continue with your prenatal care. Talk to your health care provider about where to get prenatal or delivery services if the office is closed. Know the signs of labor and early labor. If you have the signs, call your health care provider or 9-1-1, or go to the hospital right away if it is safe to travel.
Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.
Reduce your smoke exposure by wearing a respirator.
- A respirator is a mask that fits tightly to your face to filter out smoke before you breathe it in.
- You must wear the right respirator and wear it correctly pdf icon. Respirators are not made to fit children.
- If you have heart or lung disease ask your doctor if it is safe for you to wear a respirator.
- Avoid using candles, gas, propane, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or aerosol sprays and don’t fry or broil meat, smoke tobacco products, or vacuum.
- If you have a central air conditioning system, use high efficiency filters to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has a fresh air intake, set the system to recirculate mode or close the outdoor intake damper.
Here are tips from the Humane Society of Central Oregon on protecting your pets and livestock.
Tips to Protect Pets
- Keep pets indoors as much as possible, and keep your windows shut.
- Birds are particularly susceptible and should not be allowed outside when smoke or particulate matter are present.
- Let dogs and cats outside only for brief bathroom breaks if air quality alerts are in effect.
- Avoid intense outdoor exercise during periods of poor air quality. Exercise pets when dust and smoke has settled.
- Have a pet evacuation kit ready, and include your animals in your disaster preparedness planning.
Look for the following signs of possible smoke or dust irritation in animals. If your animal is experiencing any of these signs, please consult your veterinarian.
- Coughing or gagging
- Difficulty breathing, including open mouth breathing and increased noise when breathing
- Eye irritation and excessive watering
- Inflammation of throat or mouth
- Nasal discharge
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Increased breathing rate
- Fatigue or weakness
- Disorientation or stumbling
- Reduced appetite and/or thirst
Tips to Protect Livestock
- Limit exercise when smoke is visible. Especially don’t require animals to perform activities that substantively increase airflow into and out of the lungs.
- Provide plenty of fresh water near feeding areas.
- Limit dust exposure by feeding low-dust or dust-free feeds and sprinkling or misting the livestock holding area.
- Plan to give livestock 4 to 6 weeks to recuperate after the air quality returns to normal. Attempting to handle, move, or transport livestock may delay healing and compromise your animals’ performance.