Forest fire season is underway here in BC. Along with the hazy skies and smoky smells there are health concerns associated with poor quality air. The smoky air can cause irritation of exposed surfaces like eyes, nasal passages, sinuses and throat. This irritation is felt as dryness and discomfort.
There are also tiny particles floating in the air (from the burn) that are small enough to penetrate your lung tissue. This is a big problem. Once these particles pass through the lung tissue they are able to get into the blood. From there they can travel anywhere in the body and cause inflammation and damage.
How to Reduce your Exposure
Stay inside.As a lover of nature, it’s not often that I recommend people stay indoors. But if the air quality is poor you are likely doing more harm than good by being outside. This includes exercise too; try and focus on gym workouts, yoga classes, and at-home activities. When indoors keep your windows closed and use your air conditioner, if you have one, as it will filter some particles out of the air. Consider HEPA filters if you find yourself sensitive to the smoke.
Saline rinse.Invest in a Neti pot (hint: they’re not expensive) and use it with a saline rinse (mix 1 tsp of non-iodized salt, 2 cups of warm, distilled water, pinch of baking soda). If you haven't heard of a Neti pot before it is like a teapot for your nose. It works by flushing your nasal passages and sinuses. This will wash out any smoke particles that have travelled up that way.
Hydrate your mucous membranes.The mucous membranes lining your nasal cavity and throat are protective barriers that keep out harmful pollutants. It is important to keep them hydrated so that they can function properly. If they become dry the barrier breaks down and particles can enter the body. To keep them hydrated increase your water intake. For extra moisture you can also make infusions from herbs like slippery elm or marshmallow.
How to Treat Exposure After It Happens
Water.Not only does water help to keep mucous membranes happy, it also supports elimination of toxins. All the more reason to fill up your cup!
Essential oils.Specifically peppermint and eucalyptus; they are great for supporting the lungs and improve ease of breathing. If you have a diffuser, diffuse 2 drops each of peppermint and eucalyptus throughout the house. If you don’t have a diffuser, try steam inhalation. Fill a large bowl with boiling hot water (be careful!), add 2 drops of eucalyptus, then put your head over top of bowl and cover with a towel. Breathe in the steam through your nose and mouth.
Antioxidants.Smoke and the particles found in it can expose your body to free radicals. Unfortunately, these free radicals can cause damage in just about every part of the body. Luckily we have antioxidants. They work by neutralizing free radicals, which prevents them from doing harm. If you eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables you will be getting your fill of antioxidants. Specifically focus on dark, leafy greens, blueberries, grapes, and green tea for a good boost.
Liver support.The liver is the king detoxifier the body. It is important to give it lots of love and support so it can work to eliminate anything harmful that may have entered the body. Good ways to do this are by eating lots of brassica vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) and beets, drinking tea with milk thistle and dandelion, and adding in targeted nutrients like glutathione and B vitamins.
If you suffer from respiratory ailments like asthma or COPD it is especially important to stay out of the smoke and support your body. If you develop a cough, throat irritation, sinus congestion, or other ailments due to smoke exposure it is important to seek additional care.
As a naturopathic doctor I can provide targeted vitamin and nutrient supplements, lung supporting herbs, dietary recommendations and even acupuncture or cupping to support lung health.
To book an appointment with Dr. Emily Freistatter click below OR book a complimentary 15 min consultation to learn more.