Managing poor air quality through everyday life

SPOKANE, Wash. — Summer marks the time of year when families are finding ways to get outside and enjoy the sun and blue skies. Lately, though, summertime is painting an entirely different picture: wildfire smoke. That is making it dangerous for people to stay outside for any length of time.

While we want to spend as much time as possible outdoors, when the air quality hits 150 or higher, the overwhelming advice is just the opposite: spend as much time as possible indoors. We spoke to Dr. Alma Chavez, a pediatric pulmonologist. She gets it; kids, in particular, have a lot of energy they need to burn off, and usually, that’s best done outdoors. It’s the beginning of August and they’ve already had a noticeable uptick in people calling for appointments and extra medication.

Dr. Chavez recommends, if you need time outdoors, make it quick — 10 to 15 minutes, max. She explained, “Try to keep them doing mellow activities, because very active things like running cause us to bring in more air particles just by virtue of breathing in deeper.”

Also, it’s up to us to protect those who may not recognize the symptoms they’re experiencing. Dr. Chavez said, “Children can’t tell us whenever they start having headaches or even mild respiratory symptoms that might not be noticeable. So we need to protect those that might not recognize the symptoms.”

When you hit your time limit for outdoor activity, it’s important to consider the air quality indoors too. Dr. Chavez said, “If you can smell the smoke inside your house, that’s a clear indicator something needs to be changed to seal the windows or doors better.” This is a long-term solution.

For those with delicate lungs though (asthma, COPD, the elderly, or any respiratory conditions), they should consider a short-term solution as even a little pollution indoors can be harmful. The most promising solution here is investing in a free-standing HEPA filter. Also, limit burning candles, vacuuming, frying food, or using the gas stove while inside to preserve that better air quality in your home.

If you notice heavy breathing that is faster than usual, any type of extra noise when breathing, congestion, or wheezing, those are indicators it’s time to see a doctor.

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