Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
As we approach summer and those hot, dry days, many of us can’t help but think about the approaching wildfire season. Wildfires have burned millions of acres in the western U.S. this past year alone. Massive evacuations have occurred.
More people than ever are experiencing thick smoke blanketing an entire region. Skies are dark with a mixture of gray, red and orange smoke coloring the skies.
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particle matter called PM 2.5. The composition depends on many variables and can be harmful to human health. Not only do some people experience challenges with smoke inhalation, but PM 2.5 can affect the immune system making people susceptible to acute respiratory infections.
In addition, it can be mentally and physically draining to deal with prolonged wildfire smoke. While we hope our region is minimally impacted this year, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family’s health if a wildfire occurs nearby.
Wearing a protective mask not only shields us during COVID-19, but can also help in a smoky environment. While a well-fitting N95 may be the best option, research shows that other masks can provide reasonable protection if they are closely fitted around the face.
We are told to drink a lot of water for a variety of reasons, but staying well hydrated helps the kidneys and liver remove toxins which can reduce any systemic inflammation caused by smoke exposure.
It is important to understand your susceptibility. People at higher risk of experiencing health complications due to smoke are those with COPD, asthma, heart disease and other chronic or acute conditions. Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 need to be cautious as research shows some are experiencing long-term respiratory challenges. People working or spending a lot of time outdoors are also more vulnerable.
Everyone reacts differently to a similar amount of smoke so it is important to listen to your body. The most common symptoms include eye irritation, headaches, a sore throat and coughing excessively. If symptoms don’t subside, or become more severe such as difficulty breathing or heart palpitations, medical treatment should be sought.
Portable air cleaners with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter can significantly reduce indoor PM 2.5 concentrations. A high quality furnace filter taped to a box fan can also do a pretty good job in a small room, although it should never be left unattended.
While access to some public locations is limited right now because of COVID-19, spaces such as libraries, community centers and shopping malls often have good filtration systems. Knowing where to access information on the fire status is equally important. In our community, one of the best resources is YubaNet.
Not much is known at this time regarding the long-term health effects of extreme and repeated wildfire smoke exposure. This is the time to start thinking about what you will do to keep yourself healthy in a smoke filled region.
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