With all of the devastating wildfires ravaging California, the western United States, and much of Europe, thousands of people have been affected by wildfire smoke. Unfortunately, much of the smoke produced during these wildfires contain enormous amounts of toxins.
The smoke from those horrific fires are widely spread, and even if you are not in the immediate area of an active fire, chances are you may be affected by the smoke if you live anywhere within 100 miles of the fire. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to help reduce the symptoms of smoke inhalation and irritation, and there are natural remedies you can use to help cleanse yourself and your family from the damaging effects that smoke can have on your body.
What is in Wildfire Smoke?
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of burning materials and comes from many different fuel sources, such as vegetation, building materials, furniture, automobiles, and anything that is in the path of the burning fire. Smoke is comprised of gases, water vapors, and fine particulates that can cause irritation and inflammation to your respiratory system, irritate your eyes, clog the pores of your skin, and make you sick.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of wood and other materials. Carbon monoxide can make you feel quite ill, as it displaces oxygen, and in extreme conditions, can be deadly. Other gases and pollutants that can be released during a fire are acrolein and formaldehyde which are very dangerous irritants to the respiratory system.
In general, it is the fine particulates and gases that can create havoc on your body. Larger particulates greater than 10 micrometers often do not reach the lungs, but can be serious irritants to the eyes, nose, and throat. When the particulates are smaller than 10 micrometers, they can then be inhaled into the lungs and bronchial system and have the potential to pose a greater health risk.
What are the Health Risks of Wildfire Smoke?
There are many factors involved in how smoke inhalation will affect you, but one thing is certain: the longer you are exposed to the pollutants released from wood smoke, the greater the risk of developing a smoke-related illness. Short-term exposure (lasting from a few hours to several days) can cause serious irritation to your eyes, coughing, wheezing, headaches, and even chest pain.
Serious illnesses can lead to lung infections, asthma attacks, pulmonary inflammation, heart conditions, and in extreme cases, premature death. If someone is exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, they may experience extreme headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, disorientation—and may even slip into a coma. As a lot of the particulates from smoke contain carcinogenic materials, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), there could be a concern that long-term exposure may lead to cancer.
Almost everyone who is exposed to wildfire smoke can be at risk for some damage. However, there are certain sensitive populations that could be at higher risk, and they should take extra care in reducing exposure to toxic smoke and in cleansing afterward. Pregnant women, young children, elderly people, those with chronic lung and heart conditions, and those who have compromised immune systems are at greater risk for potential health dangers.
How Can I Reduce Exposure to Wildfire Smoke?
While you may not be able to avoid some exposure to wildfire smoke, there are a few strategies that can help reduce exposure. As much as possible, stay indoors and keep the doors and windows closed and try and eliminate other sources of smoke, such as burning candles. Try and avoid excess sweeping and vacuuming, as this can stir dust and smoke particulates up.
If using an air conditioning system, set the system to “recirculate” as opposed to “outside air,” to avoid bringing in polluted outside air. Clean or replace your HVAC systems filters often if there is a lot of smoke in your area. Consider adding high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) air cleaners to your home for extra filtration of fine particles.
When you are outside and the smoke is thick, wearing a face mask can be very beneficial in reducing smoke inhalation. However, basic surgical masks that you can purchase at the hardware store or pharmacy are too loose-fitting to sufficiently filter out the very fine particulates that can cause respiratory damage. Instead, choose a mask that is called a particulate respirator and is “N95” certified. Make sure the mask has two straps and that it fits securely over your nose and under your chin.
How Can I Cleanse & Detox After Exposure to Wildfire Smoke?
Drinking water is one of the best ways to flush toxins from your system, so drink lots and lots of water! Drinking hot liquids, such as chicken soup, can help to stimulate the cilia filaments that cover your cells. These cilia help remove mucus and foreign bodies away from your cells. When cilia are exposed to poor air quality, they stop moving. Hot liquids can help them get moving again to help flush the mucus away.
2. Rinse nasal passages
As your nasal passages are irritated, inflamed, and dried out after exposure to smoke, rinse often using a saline nasal spray, and use a neti pot to perform a thorough cleansing of the nasal passages. A neti pot can help remove trapped pollutants in the nasal passage before they migrate into the lungs. Or you can make a steam pot with hot water and dried thyme leaves. Thyme has antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Tea tree oil is also good for nasal steam cleansing.
3. Drink teas with demulcent herbs
Teas using demulcent herbs bring soothing relief to inflamed mucous membranes and they should be ingested as soon as possible and as often as needed. If you find yourself coughing a lot after exposure, with burning eyes and throat and lungs that feel hot, drink teas made with soothing demulcents. Demulcents form a soothing, protective film over the mucous membrane, bringing soothing relief to inflamed membranes. A tea made with equal parts slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root is extremely beneficial in coating your throat and protecting mucous membranes.
4. Use herbs to open up lungs
Peppermint tea can help to open up the bronchial system, which can increase oxygen intake to the lungs. Lobelia herb is another great bronchial dilator helping to open up the lungs. Echinacea tea will help support the immune system and help reduce inflammation and can be taken as a tea or in tincture form.
5. Soothe burning eyes
Chamomile tea will not only help relax you but can be used as an eyewash for burning eyes. Make a tea with the chamomile and use as a poultice for the eyes. Soak in a bath with lavender to help relax and detoxify you while applying chamomile poultices to help soothe sore and irritated eyes.
6. Sip a detox tea
To help detoxify and clean the smoke from your lungs, make a tea made from ginger, lemon, and turmeric. Ginger is one of the best herbs/roots for lung purification, lemon helps eliminate toxins from the respiratory tract, and turmeric helps reduce inflammation throughout your system.
7. Boost the immune system
Vitamin C supplements are helpful in providing antioxidants and keeping your immune system healthy, as well as helping to build collagen. Adding ashwagandha to your daily routine can greatly enhance your immune system as well.
8. Soak in a detoxifying bath
Soak in baths that have Epsom salts and lavender to help remove some of the toxins created in the body from smoke exposure. For a cleansing and detoxifying bath, add about 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar to the water to help draw out impurities and cleanse the pores of the skin. Add some rosemary oil to the bath to help encourage blood flow which helps to carry oxygen to all of your organs. If you do not have access to a bath, soak your feet in a pot of hot water with the above-mentioned remedies added.
While it may be difficult to escape wildfire smoke in your environment, you can take measures to protect yourself from too much exposure. Make sure and drink teas that have demulcent properties, teas that support your immune system and detoxify, use herbal tea eye washes and take regular baths or foot soaks to help clean and purify your skin. And at all costs, stay safe out there during wildfire season!