With all of the recent fires in California, we have been exposed to a lot of smoke particulate in the air as of late.
NOTE: My thoughts and prayers go out to the firefighters who have been injured, or, worse, have lost their lives recently while dealing with this drought fueled extraordinary fire season. Not forgetting the thousands currently displaced, or those who have lost their homes as a result of the hot, dry, and windy conditions; my heart goes out to them, and their loved ones. At the very least, please visit a website like the Red Cross' for information about what you can do to prepare you own home, and family, ahead of time before a potential call to evacuate is given in your area.
For most of us, the smoke is not necessarily an issue depending on your location, however if you suffer from any lung disease/condition the smoke can make life miserable for you. Lung tissue is rather fragile; little particles that we inhale can cause damage. Often the body will form a granuloma to “wall off” the particle from the body to protect itself from inflammation, irritation, or infection. These granulomas are often benign which means they cause no issues to the lung, but often they can be found on chest x-rays.
The body tries to prevent particles from getting into the lung. Sometimes we circumvent these processes by breathing through our mouth. We are designed to breath through our nose since there are many hairs there that help to trap things before they can get into the lungs. The nose also has nasal passageways that are lined with mucus membranes. These membranes will also help with heating, and cooling, the air. Your sinuses have many purposes in the head as well; not only do they lighten the weight of the head by being hollow areas, but they also produce the mucus that helps to keep the gunk out of your system.
As air moves lower into the respiratory system before it enters the lungs, tiny hairs called cilia beat back and forth to move mucus and debris up to where it can be coughed out. Once the air is in the lungs, the body is trying to make sure we are exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide so we cannot have a mucus layer. The body does have macrophages which will bind to, and ingest, any particles that get into the lungs. If there is a lot of stuff inhaled the body will also bring white blood cells to the area.
With all of these protections in place it is important for us to make sure we breathe through our nose, and not our mouth where possible. It is also important to look at the local air quality, and choose when to stay inside, or even when to use air conditioning. Now with the extra particles in the air from the smoke these days, it would be wise to keep the doors and windows of your house closed as much as possible, and to run the air conditioning so that your evaporator’s condensation will pluck particulate out your home’s air. However, you must make sure to check and see when you last replaced your air conditioning filter.
As far as being outside, it would be wise, though uncomfortable probably, to wear a dusk mask to support your lungs. According to the American Lung Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that disposable particulate masks labeled “N95” or “P1000” should be used. These masks should also be considered when going into one’s attic, or areas of the home where breathing foreign substances might occur. Even mowing the lawn these days with all or our dead grass, and highly exposed surface dirt as a result, can put us at higher risk than normal for inhalation of foreign particulates. Let us all hope the rain comes soon enough, at the very least for the struggling firefighters hard at work, and in much higher risk than ourselves.
In short, as the saying goes, when it comes to health an ounce of prevention is the best bet. So change that air filter, get a breathing mask, and check the local air quality on a regular basis.