Air quality diminishes as smoke blankets eastern Washington

Are your eyes burning a little bit today? Did you wake up this morning, walk outside and take a deep breath, only to feel like you're in a campfire or a 1980s karaoke dive bar? You're not alone. 

Smoke from area wildfires settled in Tuesday morning and blanketed Spokane. Both the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency and AirNow list our area air quality as "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups." 

"Depending on the wind and wildfire activity, the Air Quality Index may fluctuate between Moderate (yellow) and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (orange) today and Tuesday, according to Lisa Woodard, Public Information Officer for Spokane Clean Air.  "The severity of the smoke impacts depends on weather patterns. If the air isn't moving, the concentration of fine particles increases," added Woodard.  

Check Air Quality near you HERE or HERE.

The SRCAA offered the following advice for those having trouble with the smoke: 

Smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles. Breathing smoke can make anyone sick. Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing normally
  • Stinging eyes
  • A scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • An asthma attack
  • Tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat

It's important that individuals limit their exposure to smoke - especially if they are susceptible. Here are some steps people can take to protect themselves from smoke:

  • Pay attention to air quality reports. The Air Quality Index (AQI) uses color-coded categories to report when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy.   
  • Use common sense. If it looks and smells smoky outside, it is probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to play outdoors.
  • Individuals with asthma or other respiratory or lung conditions should follow their provider's directions on taking medicines. They should call their provider if symptoms worsen.
  • If a person has heart or lung disease, is an older adult, or has children, they should talk with their provider about whether and when they should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though a person may not see them.
  • Some room air cleaners can help reduce particulate levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your home.
  • Paper "comfort" or "dust masks" are not the answer. The kinds of masks that people can commonly buy at the hardware store are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. But they generally will not protect lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
  • Respiratory masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection - they filter out some fine particles but not hazardous gases in smoke (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein.) This type of mask can be found at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies.

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