If you live in Seattle, as I do, or just about any place on the west coast and neighboring states, you've no doubt been impacted by the air quality from the hundreds of wild fires (about 1500 in the western US alone). When the first major fires occurred a few years back in Washington, I had hoped it was simply a fluke of nature. It however appears to be a repeating pattern and scientists expect it to continue.
Above: Current (Aug 26 2018) maps of Canadian and US wildfires.
This certainly saps the beauty out of our summers in the Pacific Northwest, something we all live for as we have to endure the many months of gray clouds and rain in order to arrive to each summer. Yet the impact of repeated exposure to smoke can take a toll on a person’s health and quality of life. It becomes even more of a threat to those with compromised immune systems, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. And then there is the elderly, children, pregnant women along with our pets to consider!
Let's get down to what can be done to help counter-act the smoke.
First we should acknowledge the possible symptoms of smoke inhalation. Please bear in mind that these symptoms may range from slight to severe and are also determined by other factors such as your overall health level along with the amount of time you are subjected to breathing smoke, even down to the contents of the smoke. For example, forest fire smoke is quite different in it’s chemical makeup from say, a burning house or building with all of it’s construction materials, plastics, paint, etc. Such symptoms of smoke inhalation may include:
- Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness and coughing
- Eyes can become red, dry and irritated
- Chest pains, including pain when inhaling
- Abdominal Pain and nausea
- Increased heart rate
- Fainting and/or general weakness
- General feeling of sickness or compromised immunity
Typically, most people will bounce back from smoke exposure given some time however some of the lasting effects could include shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing along with greater implications on the cardiovascular system. If there’s any question or you feel you fall within the higher risk category, or you feel you aren't recovering as you should, you should consult with your doctor.
What actions can we take to mitigate smoke exposure?
Let’s look at the physical things we can do starting with prevention.
First, is to prevent as much smoke as we can from entering our lungs. Called a “particulate respirator”, these masks will have the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on them - other masks that look the same but do not bear these numbers will not be effective against smoke. These masks have the ability to filter out PM2.5 particles, which are particles that are small enough to lodge deep within the lungs and cause inflammation which subsequently can impact the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack as well as over-stimulating the autonomic nervous system which can lead to arrhythmia (and likely exacerbate anxiety conditions in some). If you’re going to be moving around outdoors during these smoky times, use one of these masks. I like the 3M N95 masks and purchase them in bulk from the local hardware store. Here is a short video on how to correctly put the mask on and ensure it’s done correctly so that it can do it’s job.
Next, point of prevention is to close up the windows in your home. While I am generally an open-window guy year round (as our home’s indoor air quality tends to be toxic with the out-gas of paints, carpets, and stagnant air from the outside), it may be worse to have a concentration of smoke inside. A few years back I purchased a couple Germ-Guardian air purifiers and have one in my bedroom which I use on occasion, and nightly during these smoky times.
It is also a good idea to have an assortment of plants in your house which definitely works to improve air quality.
Supplements to counteract smoke
Looking at smoke in it’s most basic form, we know that it is carcinogenic in nature and as such would respond to supplements including:
- NAC (N-acetylcysteine) is a form of the amino acid cysteine and helps to boost glutathione production and detoxing harmful substances (such as smoke) thus helping to mitigate free radicals by aiding the liver. It’s used to counter-act carbon monoxide as well as used in emergency medicine to counter-act overdoses of acetaminophen (Tylenol). I could go on about NAC, but the important part here is that it is a powerful supplement to help your liver detox and mitigate the harm caused internally by smoke. Generally, the dosage is around 500mg per day for an adult. As an acute measure during these time, I’m personally taking 1-2 grams per day, generally 1 gram in the morning and 1 at night. NAC will be safe for the majority of people in these ranges, higher dosages could induce some nausea so it’d be prudent to consult with your doctor should you have any question.
- Phytogen (from Thorne)
- Wish Garden’s Deep Lung
- Rootology’s Breathe Free
- Vitamin C. I like Liposomal or Lypo-Spheric form. But regular C works too.
- Vitamin D3
- Proteolytic Enzymes
Give Your Body the Right Foods
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a practice dating back thousands of years, food is not only viewed as a source of fuel for the body but going one step further, viewed as having different energies that have an effect on the body systems as well as the movement, up-regulating and down-regulating of Qi (energy) within the body.
Food is the #1 thing you should focus on as it is the building block of your body. The supplements mentioned above can and do very much help, especially during such acute bouts of smoke stress and I highly recommend giving your body a little extra protection during these times.
With smoke inhalation, there is a drying and heat effect on the lungs. The condition, from an acute standpoint can result in the symptoms mentioned above. Some foods which have been found to be nourishing to the lungs are listed below, along with foods to avoid.
- Pears, Persimmons, peach, apple, watermelon, papaya, watercress, cucumber, avocado, tomato, banana, string bean, rice, oats, carrot, mustard greens, sweet potato, yam, potato, fresh ginger, garlic, onion, turnips, radish, fig, soy milk, tofu, tempeh, flaxseed, butter, egg, oyster, clam, pork.
- Irish moss and other seaweeds, spirulina, chlorella.
Foods to avoid include:
- Any foods mentioned above which you know your body doesn’t get along with.
- Other known foods which tend to cause inflammation in the body and/or mucus include; wheat, dairy, alcohol, greasy and/or fried foods along with too much coffee.
And outside of food, remember to get plenty of rest. Sleep is critical to your body being able to effectively “keep up” and maintain your health during such acutely stressful times.