Have you been feeling a bit fatigued or had a runny nose lately? Maybe some increased headaches or itchy eyes? I thought perhaps the chamisa allergy season was starting early this year, until I look out the window this weekend and realized it was the air quality.
While we’ve been blessed in New Mexico with a wet summer and fewer wild fires this year, our neighbors to the west have not been so lucky. And according to the National Interactive Fire Center, the above normal fire conditions will continue through September and October all along the west coast, providing us with more days of hazy, smoke-filled skies here in New Mexico.
As my kids were out playing in the yard today, I recalled a report a few summers back during the Las Conchas fire that breathing wild fire smoke damages an average of 20% of red blood cells in the human body, or the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes every three or four hours. To my kids’ disappointment, I made them move their game inside.
So what’s so bad about smoke from a wild fire so far away? The biggest concern is carbon monoxide, which reduces oxygen delivery to various organs throughout the body. Wild fire smoke also contains significant quantities of formaldehyde, acrolein and benzene, chemical irritants that have been associated with increased cancer risk. In fact, urban fire fighters are three times more likely to develop lung cancer. Of course, the further away from the fire, the lower the concentration of the toxins.
In addition to staying indoors and avoiding physical exertion when the air quality is poor, there are a few things you can do to help cope with poor air quality.
Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps thin mucus, which is the body’s way of dealing with respiratory irritants. Cayenne pepper is another natural way to thin mucus, as well as increase circulation.
Get more greens. Chlorophyll, the nutrient that gives green vegetables their color, may help the body recover from smoke exposure. The chlorophyll molecule is identical to hemoglobin, responsible for carrying oxygen in the bloodstream. Additionally, chlorophyll attaches to toxins, allowing them to be removed from the body more efficiently. In 2010, the Journal of Toxicological Sciences showed that mice given chlorophyll excreted twice as much mercury.
Take a break from cleaning. (I know you’re disappointed) Vacuuming stirs up particles, ironically reducing air quality in the home. Keep windows closed and use an air conditioner if you have one. A good HEPA air filter can also improve air quality. While driving, set the AC to the “recirculate” mode in your car.
Take antioxidants. Studies on rats have shown that high doses of antioxidants helped reduced pulmonary damage that result from cigarette smoking. The antioxidants most recommended by Livestrong.com for lung health include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, resveratrol (wine) and ECCG (green tea).
You can check out the air quality report at the National Weather Service website. And as a rule of thumb, the lower the visibility the poorer the air quality outside. Until the smoke clears, so to speak, it may be best to spend more time indoors. Not vacuuming.