Interior Health has released new information on the best ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.
The province’s wildfire season started earlier than usual, with the Donnie Creek blaze in northeastern B.C. now the largest fire in Canada’s history. With the weather expected to heat up throughout the summer, it’s important to remember how wildfire smoke can affect your health.
There is fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke called PM2.5. These tiny particles in the air reduce visibility and cause the air to look hazy when levels are elevated with no wind. These particles can travel deep into one’s respiratory tract until they eventually reaches the lungs.
Municipalities within a valley or bowl-shaped environments are more susceptible to accumulating smoke. The behaviour of the wildfire, and the vegetation it is burning, also impact the effect that smoke will have on human health, because not all vegetation burns the same. If the fire is in an urban area, fuels from homes and vehicles may also be burning, which can create toxic chemistry and potentially harm human health, according to Interior Health (IH).
B.C. Medical Health Officer Dr. Sue Pollock of IH recommends reducing the time spent outdoors, and any outdoor physical activity, when the air quality is poor. She notes that everybody can be affected by poor air quality and wildfire smoke, and that the main symptoms people can experience are irritated eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy or sore throat.
Interior Health notes that these early symptoms should be monitored as they can lead to more serious ones, such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, or feeling sick. That’s the time, Pollock says, to seek medical care or talk to a health care provider.
The BC Centre for Disease Control says spending a long time outside in smoky conditions can cause systemic inflammation, which occurs when the body constantly fights off infections. To counteract this, it recommends using a well-fitted N95-style mask or respirator mask to reduce exposure if you plan to be outside for a long time.
Another way to protect yourself against the smoke this summer is to plan to self-manage any chronic respiratory diseases and ensure that adequate rescue medications are available.
The best way to avoid health risks from wildfire smoke is to stay indoors. Interior Health suggests spending time in a room in your home with a portable air cleaner to help filtration and reduce smoke exposure.
For more information about the air quality in your area, visit Environment Canada’s air quality health index webpage. You can also go to the BCCDC website to read more about the effects of wildfire smoke.