As smoky air covers large portions of Western Washington due to of wildfires, many parents wonder what they can do to keep their kids protected.
Breathing in wildfire smoke is unhealthy for everyone, however children are at extra risk for negative health effects.
Infants and children under age 18, whose lungs and airways are still developing, breathe more air per pound of body weight compared to adults.
Dr. Jonathan Cogen, an attending physician in Seattle Children’s Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, spoke with KUOW’s Soundside to share key safety measures families can take to stay as healthy as possible during poor air quality conditions.
Before you head out the door, Dr. Cogen recommends checking the air quality levels frequently to get a sense of what is going on in your immediate area.
For children with pulmonary conditions, respiratory health risk factors, or those predisposed to having problems related to air pollution, “staying inside or trying to reduce physical activity may be important,” he said.
Though a quick trip to the store or 30 minutes on the playground may not be problematic in the long-term for one child, it may exacerbate symptoms for another.
“It really depends on your overall health in general,” he added.
Listen to your body
Pay attention to how you are feeling. “If you are having problems breathing or are not feeling well, really trying to stay inside and away from the smoke is the way to go,” Dr. Cogen said.
For those who are not able to stay indoors, he recommends that families consider wearing medical-grade masks like an N95, which can help filter out many of the particles from the air pollution.
Pay attention indoors
Reducing other sources of air pollution while indoors is also important to remember.
“This is something like trying not to grill food or avoiding a wood-burning stove whenever possible,” Dr. Cogen explained. “Also, if you have a ‘clean room’ in your house like an interior room without windows or doors, that might be a good place to go and hang out as a family to try to stay away from the smoke.”
If your home has an air conditioner, Dr. Cogen suggests using it during poor air quality conditions.
“Set the A.C. to the fan mode, which may be able to filter out some of the particles a little bit better,” he shared.
With climate change exacerbating many of the recurrent conditions that enable wildfire smoke and air pollution in the Puget Sound region, Dr. Cogen says there are ways families can plan ahead.
“If you have the means to, try to invest in something like a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter at home which can be used in these sorts of situations,” he explained.
Dr. Cogen also encourages families with young children who have chronic lung disease to keep rescue medications on hand.
“Even a trip to the pharmacy that may be 10-20 miles away can exacerbate some of their conditions.”
Additionally, be sure your child’s daycare or school has an air-quality policy.