Have Questions about Wildfire Smoke? Alicja Gonzales, PA-C, Has Answers.

ZOOM+Care provider offers tips on dealing with wildfire smoke.
Alicja Gonzales is PA-C at ZOOM+Care.

Maybe you don’t need us to tell you this, but: there’s a lot going in the world right now.

While our country grapples with COVID-19, the Pacific Coast is on fire, its residents cocooned in a thick blanket of smoke under an eerie red sky. Air Quality Index numbers are—quite literally—off the charts in both rural and major cities across the west. 

With smoke levels at hazardous levels, you’re bound to have questions about how air quality affects your health. To answer your q’s, give you some peace of mind, and get tips on reducing exposure risk, we sat down with ZOOM+Care provider Alicja Gonzales.

Hi Alijica! First of all, what are the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure? 

Symptom severity can vary, but common symptoms include a scratchy throat, nasal and eye irritation, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and chest pain. 

Who is most likely to experience health effects from wildfire smoke exposure? Who is THE most vulnerable?

Individuals with preexisting lung and heart conditions, the elderly, and pregnant women are at higher risk for complications. Children are also at a higher risk because they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. 

Finally, the longer you are exposed to pollutants from smoke, the higher your risk of developing smoke-related illnesses.

What can I do to protect myself from the smoke?  

Avoid outdoor exposure as much as possible. Exercise indoors when possible. Keep all doors and windows closed, and consider applying weather sealing if you detect smoke leaking in. 

Do not add to indoor air pollution. Avoid lighting candles, smoking, vacuuming, and using your fireplace.

 As a last resort, consider seeking shelter elsewhere—especially if you are at high risk for complications. 

Are there any effective home remedies to cleanse the air? We’ve heard a lot of talk about boiling herbs, wet towels and bandanas, etc. 

The above remedies are unlikely to improve actual air quality, but they may temporarily alleviate minor smoke exposure symptoms. 

To improve the air quality in your home, try these tips:

  1. Change home air filters to high-efficiency ones. 
  2. Use a portable air cleaner/purifier.
  3. Again, do not add to indoor air pollution. Your house might feel stuff from being shut up, but avoid lighting candles or using scented air fresheners. They do nothing to improve air quality, and can actually make it worse.

How can I tell if wildfire smoke is affecting my family or me? 

If you’re told to stay indoors, do so! Stay informed and monitor air quality indexes closely in your area. Know the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure, and seek care if you’re concerned. 

If I’m experiencing side effects from wildfire smoke, when do I need to see a doctor?  

Minor symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, throat, nasal and eye irritation should gradually resolve as air quality improves.

If you have severe chest pain symptoms, shortness of breath, cough, rapid heart rate, or dizziness, you should immediately call 911 or the nearest emergency facility.

If you’re feeling off, or just worried, there is no harm in consulting your healthcare provider. Often, evaluation and medical guidance can bring much-needed reassurance. 

Should I be worried about long-term effects from wildfire smoke?  

It’s natural to feel worried, but the wildfires in our region will only temporarily affect the air quality. Long-term physical effects are unlikely.

Many of us feel really anxious right now. Is this normal?

Feeling anxious is a normal human reaction. Even in stressful situations, it’s important to try to find the positive in any situation. Consider turning anxious energy into ways to connect and help others in your community who are likely to be feeling the same way. 

Like Alicja said, it’s normal to off right now. Whether you need help coping with anxiety or processing what’s happening in the world right now, our Mental Health Specialists are here to help.