With so many wildfires burning out of control throughout the western United States and Europe, wildfire smoke can pose health risks that range from minor to very serious. When wildfires burn structures, automobiles, and homes, this smoke can have devastating consequences on people’s respiratory systems.
There are ways to help protect yourself from inhaling wildfire smoke and there are natural remedies for cleansing your lungs and skin. With a few simple preventive strategies and taking the time to use natural remedies to help cleanse from the smoke, you can help to reduce health risks associated with exposure to wildfire smoke.
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Toxins in Wildfire Smoke
Depending on where the wildfire is burning, the chemical makeup of the smoke can vary from simply irritating to posing a serious health risk. Smoke is a complex mixture of gases, water vapor, and particulates that range in size. Include in that mixture toxins released from burning plastics, petrochemicals, treated wood, and metals and you have a recipe for potentially life-threatening health issues.
Some of these nasty pollutants released into the air include acrolein and formaldehyde. Both of these compounds are extremely dangerous to the respiratory tract when inhaled, and in large amounts, they could cause serious damage to the lungs and bronchial system. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of wood and other materials. When carbon monoxide is released, it displaces oxygen. When you are exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, you can become quite ill. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and in extreme cases, you can slip into a coma.
Aside from toxic gases and compounds that you may be exposed to, serious health effects can occur when inhaling the smaller particulates of pollutants. Large particulates that are greater than 10 micrometers generally do not reach the lungs and cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. However, when the particulates are smaller than 10 micrometers, they can then be inhaled into the deeper areas of the lungs and bronchioles. These smaller sized particulates pose much greater health risks.
Health Risks Associated With Exposure to Wildfire Smoke
There are many factors that may determine how severe exposure to wildfire smoke can be, but one thing is for certain, the longer you are exposed to the smoke, the more likely it will be that you may develop a smoke-related illness. Burning eyes, coughing, wheezing, headaches, and sore throats are common reactions to smoke exposure.
However, when exposed to toxic smoke for long periods of time, you are at higher risk for serious illness. Lung infections, asthma attacks, pulmonary inflammation, heart malfunctions, and even premature death can all be results from toxic smoke inhalation. Certain populations may be even more susceptible to smoke exposure and should take extra precautions to avoid the smoke and to be pro-active in cleansing afterward. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and people who have chronic lung or heart conditions should all be extra diligent in taking care of themselves when there is wildfire smoke around.
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How to Reduce Exposure to Smoke
As much as you can, stay indoors when the smoke is very thick and especially if health advisories have been issued. Keep your doors and windows closed to avoid allowing polluted air inside. If you are running your air conditioner, set the system to “recirculate” as opposed to “outside air.” Clean or replace the air filters in your HVAC system often and consider adding high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA)to your home to capture extra fine particulates.
Wearing a face mask is highly advisable. A simple surgical mask is not enough protection, and you must purchase a particulate respirator that is “N95” certified. Make sure the mask has two straps and fits securely around your nose and under your chin.
Cleans and Detox After Exposure to Wildfire Smoke
One of the best ways to clean your system is to drink plenty of purified water. Water can help flush the toxins from your system. Surrounding our cells are feather-like cilia that help to remove mucous. When exposed to very poor air quality, cilia stop moving, and mucous build-up begins. Drinking hot liquid, such as soups and hot teas can help to stimulate the cilia to get moving again.
Nasal passages become irritated and inflamed after smoke inhalation, so use a nasal spray often, or better yet, use a Neti pot for a thorough cleansing of your nasal passages. Make a steam pot and add thyme leaves to it. Thyme has been found to have anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. Tea Tree oil is also good for steam pots as it has many of the same properties as thyme.
Drinking teas with demulcent herbs can help to coat and soothe inflamed mucous membranes lining your nose, throat, and nasal passages. Make a tea made with equal parts slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root for a soothing demulcent tea. Peppermint and lobelia teas help to open up the bronchial system so that more oxygen can be taken in. Echinacea tea is extremely helping in supporting the immune system and to helps reduce inflammation. Ashwagandha helps boost your immune system as well.
Chamomile tea is helpful for relaxing and can also be made into an eyewash. Make the tea and use it as a soothing poultice for sore eyes. To help detoxify and clean the smoke from your lungs, make a tea made from ginger, lemon, and turmeric. Ginger is beneficial for lung purification, lemon helps eliminate toxins from the respiratory tract, and turmeric helps reduce inflammation throughout your system. Vitamin C supplements are also helpful in providing antioxidants and for helping to build collagen.
Cleansing baths are a great way to clear the entire system of toxins from the smoke. Add Epsom salts, lavender, and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to your bath to draw out impurities and to clean the pores of your skin. Or make a bath with Epsom salts and add essential oil of rosemary to help encourage blood flow which helps to carry oxygen to all of your organs. If you do not have a bathtub, you can soak your feet in hot water and use the same ingredients as mentioned above.
Wildfire smoke can be devasting to the human body, and while you may not be able to avoid exposure to it, you can take measures to protect yourself. Drink herbals teas that are supportive to your system and help soothe irritated mucous membranes, take baths with Epsom salts and essential oils, and most importantly, stay safe out there during wildfire season!