The Air Is Hot and Full of Smoke
August 3, 2017 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Not used to extreme bad air conditions. Looking for useful coping mechanisms -- somehow I don't think those paper masks would make a difference, but maybe?

I live in the Pacific Northwest, near the Canadian border. The weather report has been HOT!HOT! MORE HOT COMING! The reality here is that it's hot, but not all that hot. However, the sky is flat gray, the sun is a giant scary orange fireball at sunrise and sunset, there's no breeze, the birds are dead silent, and there's a funny taste in my mouth. It's possible that last is mostly my imagination. But we are sitting under smoke from 138 uncontrolled forest fires in British Columbia. (Not just us; it's south to Portland, Oregon and east to Montana.)

I've been spoiled by waking every day to fresh air that's just blown in from Japan. Damp air, okay, but clean. What do you do when it's not clean? Better to keep the windows open, or close them and sit in stuffy rooms? Continue as usual or sit quietly and breath shallowly? What possible physical symptoms should I worry about? And what the hell can I do if I do worry?

Facts are useful, but I welcome opinions, too. Thanks!
posted by kestralwing to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You'll be fine. Keep going as usual, perhaps avoiding exercise outdoors as a precaution. If you have asthma carry your inhaler. Open the windows or keep them shut as per your tolerance for bad smells.

Last time we did this in Vancouver I don't remember any lasting consequence. Don't see why this time is different.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:52 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your sun is orange? Mine's freakishly pink just north of the border... regardless - I'm been surviving by staying indoors with AC. At work during the day, and with my AC in the bedroom at night. I have plans to go to an actual movie theatre because of the heat and grossness this weekend. Just to put things in perspective though, it was way worse a couple years ago when everything smelled like campfire. We have an air quality advisory in BC - it basically says to avoid strenuous activity outside and talk to your doc if you have medical symptoms.
posted by cgg at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: If you have the option to go someplace with sweet, sweet air conditioning (movie theaters and malls are perennial favorites), that's a good option too.
posted by mskyle at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: Several friends of mine with asthma have found this reusable mask helpful for coping with smoke haze, including smoke from controlled burns.

The website claims "KF-95 National Quality Supervision for Personal Protection Equipment. Filtering efficiency meets filtering limits of 95% of particles over .3 microns."
posted by Murderbot at 8:19 AM on August 3, 2017

Port Townsend checking in.

My opinion having grow up in the Bay Area with real smog, this is nothing. I mean it's certainly different, but the air quality certainly isn't irritating my body. And it's nice to not have the direct sun on you.

I mean, are you actually having trouble? Are you really considering dropping everything and sitting quietly, breathing shallowly? I'm not sure which parts of your question are hyperbolic and which I should respond to.

Today I think I'll spend the day sailing. It's always 10 degrees cooler on the water.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:25 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's further south than Portland - we were getting it down in Eugene, too! Our air quality advisory, like cgg's, just suggested limiting outdoor time (though it also suggested taking extra precautions if you have a heart condition, in which case, maybe talk to your doctor).

If you have the chance to do so, though, I can say that the DingoWife and I simply packed up our dog and work laptops and have headed to the coast for a few days. Admittedly it is still hazy here in Newport as I type this, but less so and the air smells beachy and fresh, not smoky - plus I believe it's only meant to get up into the high 60s today. Right now I hear birds outside, there's a definite ocean breeze, and my feet are so chilly I actually regret not bringing slippers. What haze there is doesn't feel nearly as oppressive as it did in Eugene.

Obviously not a long-term solution, but somehow just seeing firsthand that relief can be had only a short(ish) drive away has done wonders for us psychologically. Hopefully it could help you, too, if you find the worry getting out of hand. Take care!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:29 AM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: It's okay to have your windows open etc. per the air quality advisories of NOAA. For example, here's what they have to say for the Seattle area:

And here's an interview with a meteorologist with the National Weather Service: What You Need to Know About the Smoke Over Seattle.
posted by purple_bird at 9:45 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The NOAA link gets me "Air quality on average will be unhealthy for sensitive groups. People with respiratory problems should limit outdoor activity if possible. ", and the Stranger link includes "On a scale followed by the Washington Department of Ecology, we're somewhere between "moderate" and "unhealthy" levels of air pollution, according to spokesman Larry Altose. At the unhealthy stage, everybody should limit outdoor exposure. Also, avoid exercising. The smoke is worse for children, seniors, pregnant women and people with vascular and respiratory illnesses."

tl;dr - People who react to smoke probably *shouldn't* keep their windows open.

My other half gets asthmatic and has been wearing a disposable mask since the smoke arrived, and I put one on mostly in solidarity but suddenly felt a lot better. Disposable but not just paper, NIOSH N95.
posted by clew at 12:43 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're in good health, you'll be fine. I'm in Seattle and it's quite thick there too. Even so, I didn't even notice it until I saw pictures popping up on my Twitter feed.

FWIW, last time this happened, in 2015, I spent the worst of the hazy days biking from Seattle out to Goldbar through the smoke to meet a British gentleman crossing the country by bike, back down to Redmond to drop him off with his American relatives, and then back to Seattle. So sure, you're supposed to limit outdoor activities, but assuming good health, even 110+ miles on a bike is doable, if a bit daft. I'm sure it did my lungs no good, but on the other hand, it's not like we're dealing with the smog of the 70s here on a daily basis.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:19 PM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: It's bad today. Had to shut up the house. Visibility is low across the sound, and the air tastes like stale cigar butts. I'm pretty sensitive to bad air, and I'm not enjoying this at all, but I'm not at the point of being worried about it either. We found that the air seems to be clearer in the early mornings here (King County, along the sound), so we've had windows open in the morning, closed during the day. Air conditioner in the car, with the air cycling internally, so the air gets filtered. I've watered the yard in the morning when the air isn't as bad. I can feel it in my chest a bit, but it's not as bad even as spring allergy attacks, so I'm not too worried.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:26 PM on August 3, 2017

I made a couple of these homemade air purifiers from box fans. They work great! Basically, you tape a 20x20 HEPA filter made for A/C grilles to the back of a box fan.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:26 PM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hey, that's awesome, MexicanYenta. I'll be making a couple of those. Thanks.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:41 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My friends in Portland are complaining about bad asthma symptoms. It's so bad here they closed outdoor pools. Don't feel bad for feeling bad.

If you have a/c, close up the house and use that. If you don't, go to the mall or someplace where there is a/c.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:50 PM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: Shoot, I imagine its horrible there! It's nasty here in Boise.
My eyes are sore from all the smoke, so I've been using eyedrops.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:19 PM on August 3, 2017

Best answer: Hi, I'm from Singapore, and we get the haze from Indonesia every now and then, when forest fires abound. This means that:

1. There are plenty of particles in the air
2. We see lovely sunsets due to the crap in the air.
3. Funny smells happen
4. Eyes hurt
5. Breathing can be difficult

What you can do to protect yourself:

1. Stay indoors, and certainly avoid outdoor sports. Close up the windows, and turn on the air conditioning. Don't suffocate yourself though. Consider getting an air purifier if you deem it's your quality of life here.

2. Get an N95 mask and wear it when necessary. It's difficult to breathe through, but if you get those that have some shape (rather than flat) with special structured nose filtering things (perhaps even with inbuilt fans), they're a lot more palatable.

Note: some air purifiers or surgical masks may not work well in filtering out the fine particulates of forest fires (pm 2.5).

Finally, trust your own senses instead of what weather advisories say. Their measurements may be from someplace else, or they may be measuring concentrations of different types of pollutants, and they also try not to cause unnecessary panic among residents. If you feel discomfort, take action to make yourself feel better.

Here's a link to the SG Gov's resources on dealing with Haze, which you might find helpful :)
posted by appleses at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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