Recent wildfires have been a particular challenge this year, and one noticeable impact of the raging flames is the unhealthy air quality -- look no farther than the smoke and ash that filled orange skies on Wednesday morning.
Just when everyone thought the healthiest place was outside, suddenly it wasn't.
"The air quality impacts of these wildfires burning throughout Northern California are a testimony to the ongoing harmful impacts of climate change," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as wildfires caused elevated levels of smoke pollution in late August. "It's important for us all to continue to be vigilant and stay indoors as smoke continues to impact the region."
Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that are respiratory irritants which, when inhaled deeply, can affect the lungs and the heart, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. Exposure to high concentrations of these fine particles can cause a persistent cough, a runny nose, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
ACPHD officials cautioned those with respiratory conditions, compromised immune systems or other significant health issues, but noted that exposure to wildfire smoke can affect healthy people, too. It can cause respiratory symptoms as well as reductions in lung function, including the ability to remove foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.
When wildfire smoke is in evidence, residents are advised to do following:
* Stay indoors with windows and doors closed.
* Keep indoor air cool or visit an air-cooling center.
* Set home and car ventilation systems on recirculate to prevent drawing in outside air.
* Stay hydrated by drinking water.
* Limit or avoid outdoor activities.
* Use an air filter, especially for household members with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions, or elderly persons and children.
* Avoid using wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, burning candles and incense, barbecuing, smoking.
* If possible, leave the affected area for the duration of a heavy smoke event.
The air district also advises residents to keep polluted air out of their homes by caulking windows and using weather-stripping under doors. Windows and doors can be sealed with paper towels held in place with painter's tape.
If adults must go outdoors, they may benefit from wearing an N95 mask, according to Kaiser Permanente, which can block the fine particulate matter in smoke.
Kaiser also noted that irritation or swelling in the air passages may not be noticed until several hours after exposure to smoke. If impacted, it advises the following:
* Get plenty of rest and sleep; your energy level will improve with time. Prop up your head on pillows to help you breathe and ease a cough.
* Suck on cough drops or hard candy to soothe a dry or sore throat.
* Take cough medicine if your doctor tells you to.
* Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you.
* Avoid things that may irritate your lungs, which include cold, dry air or hot, humid air.
Call your doctor if you cough up yellow, dark brown or bloody mucus; if your coughing or wheezing gets worse; or if you do not start to feel better.
The air district continually monitors the air and posts Spare the Air alerts. Sign up for text alerts by texting the word "START" to 817-57; register for email AirAlerts at www.sparetheair.org; call 1-800-HELP-AIR; download the Spare the Air App; or connect with Spare the Air on Facebook or Twitter.