Katharine wearing N95 particulate maskIf you live in the Bay Area, specifically in my Marin neighborhood, you’ve been dealing with wildfire smoke from the Camp Fire for over a week.

Even living miles away from the fire, consider these main concerns about breathing the smoke.

Tiny particulate matter – Of most concern are the smallest particles that blow into town with the wildfire smoke. Invisible to the naked eye, these minute bits enter the lungs and instead of being filtered, enter the bloodstream directly. This can cause lasting damage to your deep lung tissue, called alveoli. In addition, once these particulates enter the bloodstream, they can damage other areas of the body.

Airborne toxins – The smoke from the Camp Fire contains toxic materials from structures that burned. When construction materials, furniture, cars and gasoline ignite, they release toxins such as formaldehyde, styrene, benzene, toluene, xylene, PVC, and phlatates.

Exposure to these chemicals can increase your risk of allergies and asthma, which is already heightened by the particulate matter in the air. Some seemingly innocuous symptoms of exposure may be fatigue, headaches, vertigo, and memory deficits. More serious consequences include liver, kidney and lung damage.

In addition, exposure to these toxins can cause hormonal disruption including male and female infertility, insulin resistance and an increased risk of type II diabetes, anemia, hypothyroid, and cancer.

How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

  1. Stay inside – Your best defense is to stay indoors with the windows and doors closed and a HEPA air purifier or three running.
  2. Air purifier filter with smoke residue, San Rafael

    Three-month-old pre-filter from my home

    Invest in a HEPA-filtered air purifier – I really like the Honeywell brand.

  3. Replace air filters in your home AC & heating units, and in your car – Your everyday air filters have been carrying a heavy burden this year with August’s rash of wildfires and now November’s fires. Check your filters. They probably need to be replaced. I recently took my car, purchased in March, for regular service and they changed my cabin filter because it was filthy.
  4. Breath recycled air – The California Air Resources Board recommends that you shut off fresh air intake when you use a home air conditioner or drive your car. When driving, be sure to wear your N95 or P100 mask as well.
  5. Regularly wear your N95 or P100 mask – If you must go outside, please invest in an N95 mask to keep those small particles from entering your lungs and bloodstream where they can cause lasting damage.If your local hardware store is out of N95 masks, order online. It’s challenging as you can’t try them on before you buy, but try to find an N95 mask that forms a complete seal over your mouth and nose. Gaps in the filter mean you’ll be breathing unfiltered air and reducing the efficacy of your mask.I really like 3M’s 8511 Niosh N95 mask as it’s made from flexible material that conforms to your face. Also, gentlemen, it might be time to shave that Movember stash. Facial hair can cause that seal to be less effective too. Once you find one that fits your face, buy several. It’s recommended that you wear a new mask every day.
  6. Drink lots of water – Your liver and kidneys need extra help filtering toxins out of your bloodstream right now. Give them a little support in flushing toxins out of your bloodstream with some extra H2O.
  7. Support your lungs and liver with NAC – N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a great supplement to take right now. It supports both the health of mucous membranes such as your lungs and is a pre-cursor to glutathione. Your body needs glutathione for Phase I and Phase II liver detoxification, but it doesn’t absorb effectively. By supplementing with high quality NAC, you help your body produce more glutathione and detoxify more efficiently.
  8. Eat your leafy greens – Yep, your mom was right. It’s important to eat your vegetables if you want to grow healthy, strong, and support your liver in detoxing your body. Make sure to reduce your toxin exposure by eating organic, especially any veggies on The Dirty Dozen list.
  9. Reduce your toxic exposure – Daily personal care products often contain chemicals that can be harmful to our health. Not sure which ingredients you should be avoiding? Check out The Never List. Also, look into the ingredients in your house-cleaning products. Baking soda and vinegar can be good replacements chemical laden cleansers. Check Youtube for some inspiration on DIY cleaners!
  10. Buy some houseplants – I’m giving you permission to decorate your house like a Pinterest board! Plants not only produce oxygen, they filter toxins out of the air. Plus, they can lift your mood on a gloomy, smoky day.
  11. Buy an air quality monitor – This allows you to see what the air quality is in your home. It can help you gauge the effectiveness of your air filters so you can take steps to improve your air quality. Here’s one good option.
  12. Wash your hair – Just like when you have allergies, it’s important to wash your hair so that you are not breathing in particles that have landed on your head throughout the day.
  13. Change your sheets – Again, as with allergies, changing your sheets weekly and your pillowcase daily will reduce your exposure.
  14. Nasal rinse – Your sinuses filter some gunk out of the air, so help it leave your body. Two of my favorite ways to clean out the nasal sinuses, using something like Vicks Sinus Inhaler or use a xylitol-based nasal spray like X-Clear. If you suffer from chronic sinus infections, you might consider adding a drop of grape seed extract to your steamer or neti pot. Often there is a fungal component to chronic sinus infections, and the grape seed extract helps kill that off.
  15. Get lots of sleep – Your body repairs itself while you sleep. Make sure to budge some extra time for shut-eye.

Please take care of yourself, be kind to your neighbors, and if you can, consider donating to a charity that’s helping those who have lost their homes and jobs this wildfire season.

If you don’t know how to help or who to donate to, KQED has a good list of some ways that you can help.

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