Wildfires in the Time of COVID-19
Over the past few weeks, many of the patients who have come to my office have been suffering from respiratory irritation due to the wildfire smoke in the air. Some of my patients have been forced to flee their homes to get out of high-density smoke areas near the fires. Symptoms vary and include the expected congestion and throat/ eye irritation, but also (perhaps surprisingly) include worsening of other conditions ranging from migraine to high blood pressure and even depression.
While we’re struggling with poor air quality and hazy air from distant (for now) wildfires, we’re also struggling with a respiratory pandemic, COVID-19. Coughing and sneezing is certainly not what one wants to be doing right now! There’s also the concern that wildfire smoke exposure could cause respiratory inflammation and damage that makes one more susceptible to respiratory illnesses (such as COVID-19) or could make concurrent infections worse or more challenging to treat.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that we have an overabundance of terrible news. While this situation is yet another cause for concern, it is not hopeless! Thankfully, there are some strategies you can implement even in the comfort of your home or office to help reduce your smoke exposure and improve your respiratory health.
With respiratory irritants such the toxins and particulate matter from fires, it is particularly important to work on reducing other irritants and protect your respiratory system. If you or a family member smoke, now is an excellent time to quit. Evaluate cleaning materials, household and personal fragrances, many of which contain harsh chemicals that are respiratory irritants. Keep your living and workspaces well-ventilated. Consider using an air filter fan (HEPA filter) to reduce the particulate and allergen content of your enclosed spaces.
While I am an avid outdoorsperson, now is a better time to plan outdoor adventures than to adventure outdoors. While waiting for the air to clear, spend some time indoors developing your go-to stretching and exercise routine. Gentle movement is ok! Sometimes, when our respiratory systems are under strain, it is best to incorporate slow, paced movement rather than the intense cardio you’d typically work towards. Set up a space in your house where the air is clear, and you have enough space to work-out. This is a good opportunity to catch up on those Tai Chi videos or bodyweight exercise webinars and develop your home exercise routine.
While you’re working out and reducing household irritants, it is also important to work on your internal environment. Having a balanced, varied diet with adequate nutrients is an important foundation to help your body better weather external irritants such as pollution, smoke, and illnesses. It is generally helpful to increase the quantity of colorful vegetables in your diet. Colorful veggies contain antioxidants and other compounds that may promote healthy circulation, appropriate immune response and even stabilization of the cells that tend to respond to allergens and result in the unpleasant sniffling/congestion symptoms. This is also definitely the time to pay attention to staying adequately hydrated. A key part of maintaining hydration for most people is choosing water or herbal tea rather than processed sugary beverages and alcohol.
If you’ve been working on these strategies, but still feel like you’re struggling, feel free to schedule a phone consultation with Dr. Overland to discuss your specific concerns and questions. A personalized wellness-plan can help you develop the strategies you need to stay healthy whatever the season.