Despite unhealthy air, many people are still playing outside

SEATTLE -- The Pacific Northwest usually has some of the best air quality in the country, but right now, it's rated as one of the worst regions in the world.

But it hasn't stopped people from trying to take in all of the sights, even if they're taking in smoke with it.

The haze has blanketed the Northwest for the better part of two weeks.

"Something nasty, never seen it before," said Max King, who has lived in Seattle for more than a decade.

At Green Lake, the quality is not keeping healthy people from hanging outdoors.

"I gotta move somehow so I just come out, get the exercise in and see how I feel," said Colleen Hadley, fresh off an hour of stand-up paddle boarding across the lake with her son.

Even though some people are feeling the symptoms, they aren't letting it stop them.

"I could tell that the air was a little bad," said Jonathan Lang, who works at the Green Lake Boathouse. "My eyes were getting a little watery."

The longer you have to be outside, for work or for pleasure, the more it affects you.

As of noon Tuesday, a day spent outside in Seattle was like smoking five cigarettes, according to air-quality comparisons made by Berkeley Earth. Its research equates one cigarette to an air pollution rating (AQI) of 22.

In Kent Valley, the number was seven cigarettes. By noon in Port Angeles, that number had rocketed up to 12 cigarettes, or more than half a pack in one day.

It'll get worse before it gets better. By 4 p.m., Seattle's "cigarette intake" was nearly eight.

Of course, inhaling wildfire smoke is not actually the same as smoking a cigarette, which has additives that make it more dangerous.

In fact, even comparing unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke versus air pollution yields different effects.

"A lot of those particles are settling in the mouth and in the nose and that’s causing people to cough," said Cora Sack, a pulmonologist at UW Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center.

Sack said for most people, symptoms from smoke will stay only as long as the smoke itself.

"But really, if you’re starting to have trouble breathing, if you’re having chest pain, I mean, use your common sense," she said. "When you would go to the doctor normally is when you should still go to the doctor."

For everyone else, when air quality hits that unhealthy level (AQI of 151 or higher), it’s best to limit your exposure by staying inside and closing the windows.

Remember, it won't last forever.

"Just relax," King said. "Take a deep breath."

Figuratively, of course.