Wildfires and Air Quality
Last updated: July 2023
Over the last few weeks, the east coast of the United States has been dealing with wildfire smoke blowing down from Canada. The air quality index has been high (the higher the number the worse the air quality), and it has been recommended that people with health issues, particularly people with lung disease, avoid being outside for very long and stay inside in clean air as much as possible.
As someone with severe asthma, I take these recommendations very seriously. I have enough trouble breathing when the air quality is good, and I am certainly not going to push my luck when the air quality is so poor.
Poor air quality keeping me inside
Walking is one of the biggest things I do every day for my mental health. I love being outside in the fresh air and listening to the birds singing. But when the air quality is so poor, I have to make a conscious decision to stay inside. Not that my mental health will suffer severely if I do not go for a walk a few days in a row, but going for a walk is such an integral part of my day, that it is hard for me to sit inside.
I had ankle surgery a few months ago and was stuck inside for nearly 2 months. I was elated when I was finally able to go out for my first walk, even though it was short. I am still building up my stamina for longer walks, so being stuck inside is like a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, the risk of irritating my lungs outweighs the potential rehab factor for my ankle.
Using air filters
Last summer I invested in a HEPA filter for my bedroom after I had an asthma attack that landed me in the hospital. There was a noticeable difference in my asthma symptoms after I got the air filter, and after a rough winter, I got another filter for my living room. Both air filters are rated to cover more than the square footage of my apartment, so I know that having both of them makes sure that my air is as clean as possible.
With the air quality being so poor, I have turned both of my air filters to their highest setting. Even though I am limiting opening doors and windows, it is impossible to keep all the poor air out. The difference in air quality between the outside and inside is palpable. Stepping outside, there is an immediate flood of smoke-filled air and the smell is intense, but step back inside and the air is fresh without a hint of smokey smell. It is amazing what my little air filters can do. I may occasionally take them for granted, but with how bad the air quality has been, I am very thankful to have them and know they are making a difference.
Wearing a mask
Aside from my asthma, I also have a poor immune system, so I have continued to remain cautious when going places and interacting with large groups. I have just recently started going places without a mask. I feel more comfortable since there are fewer germs floating around in the summer, and I have been on a medicine to help improve my immune system, which is working quite well. That being said, I have gone back to wearing a mask, especially while I am outdoors, which is completely opposite of how things have been for the last few years. But I know that having a mask on can help limit particles that I might breathe in when the air is so bad.
Tracking the air quality to help manage my asthma
Tracking air quality is not very difficult. Many weather sites provide the air quality index as part of the daily forecast. There are also plenty of apps you can put on your phone to see the air quality index, and some smartwatches have the capability to display the air quality too. There are even websites that show areas affected by smoke, which can help aid in making decisions about whether it is safe to be outside or not. I use a combination of these resources and pay special attention to warnings issued by The National Weather Service.
Thankfully, I have been able to get out the last 2 days and go for walks. Unfortunately, the wildfires are still burning and the threat of poor air quality is still imminent. For now, I will enjoy the fresh air outside but remain mindful to keep my eye on the air quality forecast.
Have you been affected by poor air quality?
What do you do to help protect yourself when the air quality index is high? Do you use an air filter in your home or wear a mask outside? Let us know in the comments!
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?