Wildfire season is underway across the United States, bringing new health concerns for people who may be impacted by wildfire smoke.
Some of the wildfire smoke has drifted across Idaho and into parts of the east coast, triggering air quality alerts in a few cities. That decline in air quality is something Idahoans, especially in certain groups, should also be aware of.
"There are a few groups who need to be cautious," says Regence Wellness & Safety Consultant Justin Jones. "The first one is young children. Their lungs are still developing. They breathe more air per pound than adults do as well. Plus, they're outside typically and they're playing so we need to be really cautious of that, and children are considered vulnerable, even if they don't have pre-existing conditions."
Other groups that should be aware of deteriorating air quality include pregnant women, older adults, and anyone with respiratory or heart disease like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, or COPD.
Even if you're not in one of those specific groups, there are different ways wildfire smoke and poor air quality can still affect you.
"If you start to have burning eyes, runny noses, you're coughing or wheezing, having difficulty breathing, you really need to take stock of what that air quality is. Those are symptoms of inhaling too much smoke," Jones explains.
There can also be differences between groups and what symptoms they might experience.
"Especially people with respiratory or heart disease, it may be something where you're coughing really hard, there's phlegm, there's chest discomfort, even shortness of breath. If you're in an at-risk category and you're seeing those symptoms, it may be time to seek some medical attention."
When air quality does deteriorate, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself and your family breathing easy.
"Use some common sense as your guide. If you're smelling smoke, if it's hazy outside, if it just doesn't look right outside, it's probably not a great time to go mow the yard or take the dog for a walk or go for a run. Just use common sense and be patient and wait for a change in the smoke conditions," says Jones.
Taking air quality safety measures includes making sure the inside of your home is prepared as well.
"Keeping those windows and doors closed, keeping the vents closed, trying to keep as much smoke out of your house as possible. Obviously, it's summer so it's hot. Air conditioners are running. Be sure to set it to recirculate. Close the fresh air intake and try to keep that smoke out of the house."
For those who don't have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed while it's extremely hot can be dangerous so Jones suggests seeking out shelter with relatives or at a community cooling station.
During the pandemic, many of us have turned to face masks or coverings as a way to stay safe from COVID-19, but Jones says that likely won't extend to stopping wildfire smoke or particles. Masks with an N95 or KN95 rating may help a little bit, but they're still in short supply as the pandemic continues.
To check the Air Quality Index for your area, click here.