Healthy Living: Wildfire smoke safety

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With more than a dozen wildfires burning in Washington, preparation should be at the top of mind - even for communities that don’t typically experience fire danger.

It’s extremely dry, hot and with no rain in sight. Washingtonians are bracing for what could be a devastating wildfire season. Depending on where the wind blows, that smoke can create poor, unhealthy air quality in your community.

"Small particles in the air such as those emitted by wildfires pose the greatest risk because they can bypass the body’s natural defenses and go deep into the lungs and the bloodstream," said Dr. Amy Khan, Executive Medical Director at Regence.

Dr. Khan says exposure to these particles can have short and long-term health impacts. You’ll first notice irritation to your eyes, ears, nose and throat. She says smoke exposure can also make you more prone to lung infections including COVID-19.

So with the Delta variant running rampant across the country, how do you know if that dry cough is from poor air quality or COVID-19?

They both share some of the same symptoms like shortness of breath and cough. But if you have fever, chills, or body aches - that’s likely a virus.
Getting vaccinated helps.

But with children under 12, unvaccinated, they’re certainly more vulnerable to wildfire smoke.

"Our children breathe air faster and take in more air than adults and are more sensitive to air pollution," said Dr. Khan.

Stay indoors when air quality is considered unhealthy. If you have to go outside, consider wearing an N95 mask to stop the small particles from penetrating through the fabric.

If you have to flee your home because of fire danger, make sure you have an exit plan with your family before you get an evacuation notice. 
Taking care of your mental and emotional health during natural disasters is critical, so if you start to feel panicked, doctors say deep breathing, stretching and walking can help reduce stress.

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