Smoke Advisory: How To Stay Safe

South Academy in Colorado Springs, June 20, 2013. Credit: Hayley Engle-Brown
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Wildfires burning in Colorado have caused smoke to blanket much of the southern part of the state.

Much of southeast and south-central Colorado, including El Paso County, are currently under a Wildfire Smoke Health Advisory. The state Department of Public Health and Environment says that if visibility is less than five miles due to smoke in your neighborhood, the smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.

The department has released the following tips on protecting yourself from heavy smoke:

What can you do if smoke from wildfires is affecting you and your family?

There are a few simple actions you should consider that can minimize exposure to smoke that makes its way into a community. The extent of the precautions you take should reflect how heavy the smoke is, how long it lasts, and your household's risk as described above.

-If you smell smoke and/or are beginning to experience symptoms, consider temporarily locating to another area as long as it is safe for you to do so.

-Seek out locations where air is filtered. For example, heading to the local mall, movie theater or recreation center can provide some temporary relief. Local health officials often can help locate places with better air quality during extended smoke episodes.

-Close windows and doors and stay indoors. However, do not close up your home tightly if it makes it dangerously warm inside.

-Only if they are filtered, run the air conditioning, the fan feature on your home heating system (with the heat turned off) or your evaporative cooler. Keep the outdoor air intake closed and be sure the filter is clean. Filtered air typically has less smoke than the air outdoors. Running these appliances if they are not filtered can make indoor smoke worse.

-If you have any HEPA room air filtration units, use them.

-In smokey air reduce your physical activity level. Avoid exercise or other strenuous activities in heavy smoke. If smoke is simply unpleasant or mildly irritating, changing the timing of a few activities may be all that is necessary.

-Give extra attention to the things that help keep a person healthy at any time. Make healthy eating choices, drink plenty of fluid, get ample sleep, and exercise in clean air. To the extent that you can, avoid or mitigate stress by keeping in touch with friends and family, exercising, and using other methods of taking a break from worries.

-Avoid smoking, secondhand smoke, vacuuming, candles and other sources of additional air pollution.

-Commercially available dust masks may seem like a good idea, but they do virtually nothing to filter out the particles and gasses in smoke.

At night:

-At night smoke may move in different directions than smoke does in the day, and can be heavy--especially if the outdoor air is still. It tends to be worst near dawn.

-Close bedroom windows at night.

-To prepare for nighttime smoke, consider airing out your home during the early or middle of the afternoon when smoke tends to be more diluted. Use your best judgment. If smoke is thick during the day, follow the tips above.

-If symptoms persist or become more severe, please contact your primary health care provider.

Symptoms include:
Eye, nose and/or throat irritation--runny eyes and/or nose.

-Coughing, sore throat.

-Trouble breathing or tightness of the chest, which may be symptoms of a health emergency.

-The onset of symptoms related to pre-existing respiratory ailments like asthma or emphysema.

-Especially following days or weeks of smoke exposure, increased short-term likelihood of getting a cold or having similar symptoms of less effective immune responses.

-If symptoms persist or are severe, contact your primary health care provider.

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