Tips for staying healthy amid the wildfire smoke

September 16, 2020 Providence News Team

HerFeed founder, Brette Borow, sat down with two Providence experts to talk about the health and mental impacts of the wildfires raging across the West Coast. In this 30-minute Live event, Brette posed questions to Providence pulmonologist, Dr. Jiten Patel, and Dr. Robin Henderson, executive director of Behavioral Health.

Below is the video replay as well as some key highlights from the discussion.

Regarding the symptoms from the smoke, can they be similar to those of COVID?

Dr. Patel: There are some overlaps, specifically relating to coughing and breathlessness. Smoky air can also cause some people to lose taste. 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 ensure that your home has fresh filters.

Who is at risk most with these wildfires?

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 cooler environments, as hotter temperatures can make it harder to breathe.

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 mis-information out there.

How to help children cope and have some sense of normalcy?

Dr. Henderson: It’s important to talk to children about preparedness. In the event that 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. Just like the guidance for COVID-19, find ways to get the whole family involved in reading, exercising or playing games.

What is your position and recommendation for masks?

Patel: For COVID, it’s our responsibility to lessen the transfer of the virus to others. I’m advocating for mask anytime you venture out. With the air quality index so high, I’d recommend an N95 mask. Unless you have to go out, it’s best to stay indoors.

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.

In closing, Dr. Henderson said, “This is overwhelming, and no matter what you’re going through there is always someone to talk to. You are not alone.”

If you or loved ones are struggling during this difficult time, check out our community resources hub to get some tips on how to cope. 

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