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During fires, try to be good to your lungs

October 13, 2008 | 11:26 am

Widlfire

With the wildfire in the Lake View Terrace-area burning on, the American Lung Assn. of California offers advice on how to safeguard your health:

"The American Lung Association of California offers the following lung health tips and information about clean-up protection to residents affected by current fires throughout the state. People with respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis should monitor their breathing and exposure to airborne matter and consult with a physician immediately, should problems develop.

General recommendations:

People living in fire-stricken areas should remain indoors and avoid inhalation of smoke, ashes and particulate matter in the air.

It is recommended that people in the immediate and surrounding areas of the fires refrain from exercising outdoors; particularly if they smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.

When driving your car through smoky areas, keep your windows and air vents closed. Air conditioning should only be operated in the "recirculate" setting.

People with respiratory problems, including asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, who live in immediate and surrounding areas of fires should:

Stay indoors as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut and preferably with clean air circulating through air conditioners and/or air cleaners and purifiers. Use air conditioners on the recirculation setting so outside air will not be moved into the room.

If outdoor trips in smoky areas are necessary, breathe through a damp cloth to help filter out particles in the air.

People with asthma should optimize their use of medication during this time and be sure to have medication(s) (pills, inhalers) available in case of asthma attacks, and should consult with their physicians regarding appropriate dosages for asthma prevention.

People using oxygen should not adjust their level of intake before consulting their physicians.

If pulmonary symptoms are not relieved by usual medicines, seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for are: wheezing; shortness of breath; difficulty taking a full breath; chest heaviness; light headedness and dizziness.

If you develop a persistent cough, or difficult or painful breathing, contact your physician. It is important to be aware that the onset of symptoms can appear as late as 24 to 48 hours after exposure and that smoke can remain in areas for many days after the fires have ended.

In relation to clean-up, residents and volunteers should keep the following in mind, as the clean-up process involves ashes and other particulates:

People with lung or heart problems should avoid clean-up activities and areas where dust or soot is present.

Thoroughly wet dusty and sooty areas prior to clean-up. This will help to reduce the amount of particles becoming airborne.

Regarding masks: Wear an appropriate dust mask during clean-up.

In affected areas:

Don’t go outside if at all possible. The best protection is to avoid exposure. Masks are no substitute for avoiding the exposure all together.

A mask can help reduce exposure if you have to be outside in high smoke areas. Use an NIOSH branded, N95 or P100 mask, properly fitted.

The “damp cloth” option may be an emergency substitute, but with the ready availability of N95 masks, it may be a good idea to have an N95 at the ready in case of evacuation or emergency. If caught unexpectedly in a smoke situation, a damp rag would likely be better than nothing, but it has greater limitations.

The masks pose special concerns for people with lung diseases who would have additional difficulties breathing with them because of their disease. People with lung diseases should consult with their doctors about using a mask.

Some areas are likely to have pockets of higher or lower pollution levels than would appear in a county alert. Assume that if there is an air pollution warning in your area (and certainly, if there are no warnings, but you can see or smell smoke), take precautions, which will include special precautions for people at highest risk (children, older adults, people with lung or heart disease and diabetes).

If exposure to asbestos or other hazardous materials are suspected, do not disturb the area. Dust masks do not protect against asbestos.

Call (800) 586-4872 to automatically reach your nearest American Lung Association or to speak with registered nurses and respiratory therapists at our free HelpLine."

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: Firefighters fight the Marek fire on Foothill Boulevard. Photo credit: Al Seib / L.A. Times.

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