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Smoke from wildfires can cause serious health complications.
Find out who’s most at risk.
Providence physicians Jiten Patel and Robin Henderson provide information and advice for dealing with wildfire season.
In a live conversation, Providence pulmonologist, Dr. Jiten Patel, and psychologist, Dr. Robin Henderson, talked about the physical and mental health impacts of the wildfires that periodically rage across the West Coast.
Who is at risk most from the health impact of wildfire smoke?
Dr. Patel: Once we get to 200+ air quality index, it’s likely we’re going to see more people with co-morbidities. For patients with cardiovascular conditions, the worsening of air quality can exacerbate breathing difficulties. For those with asthma, I am recommending that they stay in cooler environments, as hotter temperatures can make it harder to breathe.
What is your position and recommendation for masks during wildfires?
Dr. Patel: If the air quality index is in the unhealthy to hazardous range, I’d recommend an N95 mask. Unless you have to go out, it’s best to stay indoors.
How do people stay calm during the fires?
Dr. Henderson: One thing I tell my patients is to ground yourself, close your eyes and breathe to remind yourself that you are in a safe space. Finding trustworthy information can also be helpful. For instance, state and county emergency sites are updated daily and that can help people get the information they need to cope. Getting a solid source of information is helpful, but don’t go overboard and watch a ton of news as there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
How can we help children cope and have some sense of normalcy?
Dr. Henderson: It’s important to talk to children about preparedness. If you have to evacuate, helping them understand what toys they want to take will help them understand the situation and be better prepared. Having a family plan is very important to help kids stay calm.
For those who don’t have pre-existing conditions, what can they do to stay safe?
Dr. Patel: There are some short-term and long-term things to consider. Use common sense. Stay indoors, find ways to stay active, and stay hydrated. It’s also important to watch your diet during the times when you are forced to stay inside. Find ways to get the whole family involved in reading, exercising or playing games.
What is your general guidance on coping?
Dr. Henderson: Engage with your community and friends. It’s important to get connected to the local resource centers and try to establish some sense of normalcy by talking to family, and for kids ensure they have some familiar items like toys. This is overwhelming, and no matter what you’re going through there is always someone to talk to. You are not alone.
Regarding the symptoms from smoke, can they be similar to other illnesses?
Dr. Patel: There are some overlaps, specifically relating to coughing and breathlessness. Smoky air can also cause some people to lose taste, which can be like COVID-19. Some of the symptoms overlap, but you’re not going to have fever or chills unless you have other conditions that are activated due to the smoke. One word of advice would be to replace the air filters in your home.
If you or your loved ones are struggling during wildfires or other difficult events, check out our community resources hub to get some tips on how to cope.
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