Air Quality is an Ongoing Concern

By Kathy Hubbard

“It would be a beautiful day if it weren’t for the smoke,” my neighbor said last Wednesday when we met while out walking. “Even the dogs are coughing!”

We both agreed as our eyes were watering and our throats were dry, that it would be best for everyone if we could just get a good soaking downpour. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember a summer I’ve wished more for rain than this one.

In general, the healthy ones of us will only find inhaling smoke unpleasant. Slight symptoms that may resemble catching cold are common and will dissipate with the smoke, hopefully soon, when a good breeze comes blowing through.

The American Lung Association says that all of us should remain indoors when smoke from the wildfires gets thick.

“Don’t exercise outside if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation,” ALA recommends. “Extra precaution should be taken for children, who are more susceptible to smoke because their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe in more air (and consequently more pollution) per pound of body mass than adults.”

They say that while driving we should roll up our windows and set the air conditioner to the recirculate setting. They also recommend doing the same with your indoor air conditioning and make sure your filters are clean.

“Drink plenty of water,” National Weather Service says. “Staying hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract, making it easier to cough out smoke particles. Plan on coughing; it is nature’s way of clearing your lungs.”

The Centers for Disease Control says that we should avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. “Burning candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, contributing to indoor pollution. Smoking also puts even more pollution into the air.”

Wow, advice to not clean the house? Terrific. And, add to that advice to quit smoking? Priceless.

If you have respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease you need to be extra careful while our air quality is compromised. I’m sure you know this, but if you develop breathing problems you should call your primary care provider immediately.

As a matter of fact, if you have asthma, the ALA recommends contacting your clinician “regarding any change in medication that may be needed to cope with the smoky conditions.

“People using oxygen should not adjust their levels of intake before consulting a physician. Call your doctor before you take any action.”

ALA also says to watch for wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, light headedness and dizziness. If your symptoms are not alleviated by your regular medicines, seek medical attention.

According to the Idaho Department of Ecology, last Wednesday’s AQI (Air Quality Index) was 120. On Monday (the day I’m writing this) the index is 101, but I can’t see across the lake from my Hope home.

Values are measured between 0 and 500. Good air quality is rated 0 to 50; moderate is 51 to 100; unhealthy for sensitive groups is 101 to 150, unhealthy 151 to 200, very unhealthy 201 to 300 and hazardous is 301 to 500.

“Everyone may begin to experience health effects when AQI values are between 151 and 200. Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” DEQ says. And, of course it only gets worse as the values go up. You can see what our daily value is by going to www.deq.idaho.gov. Look for Daily Air Quality Reports and Forecasts and type in Sandpoint.

Hopefully soon the forest fires will be more contained and the predicted winds will have cleared out our air. But, bear in mind that we’re not nearly finished with wildfire season. It continues through October. So, until we get some substantial, continuing rain the fire danger rating will remain at “Extreme.”

So, please follow all fire restrictions that are in effect right now, and don’t put yourself or those you love in harm’s way.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.