Officials at Interior Health say the best protection from the B.C. wildfire smoke is to reduce exposure altogether, noting masks often aren’t all that effective. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Looking for smoke protection? Masks likely won’t help

Interior Health officials say the best protection is to reduce exposure altogether

Interior Health is reminding people that the best way to avoid complications from wildfire smoke is to reduce exposure altogether, after reportedly receiving numerous questions about the efficacy of masks.

According to an IH release on Friday, masks aren’t without limitations — particularly, paper dust masks sold in stores don’t protect from smoke particles, the health authority says.

Specialized masks, called N95 respirators, too, aren’t ideal, according to IH, which says the masks need to be properly fitted to each user for proper protection. That takes 20-30 minutes with the guidance of professionals, IH says.

Breathing in those masks is also more difficult, which can, in itself, be a concern for people with respiratory issues, IH said, adding no certified N95 respirators are on the market that fit the faces of children.

The masks also stop working when saturated with water or sweat, according to the release.

That’s not to say the masks aren’t useful for anybody — IH notes the masks are fine for people who work outside, provided they are properly fit by a professional.

“The best thing people can do is monitor the air quality in their area, take the steps to reduce smoke exposure and monitor their symptoms,” the IH release says.

Among the actions recommended:

  • When at home ensure that air conditioners are on recirculate and consider using a portable air cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter or an electrostatic precipitator
  • Keep windows and doors closed when possible
  • Seek out public spaces with cleaner air, such as shopping malls or community centres
  • Limit your time outside
  • Reduce activity in smoky environments: the harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale
  • Stay cool, drink plenty of water

Officials say smoke affects each person differently depending on health, age and exposure.

Most at risk are those with underlying medical conditions, including asthma, COPD, heart disease or diabetes. It’s also a concern for pregnant women, infants, young children and the elderly.

“When smoke levels become very high, even healthy people can be affected and everyone should be monitoring their systems and taking appropriate action to protect their health.”

Among the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Irritated eyes, nose, and throat

Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact their doctor or check in at a walk-in clinic. Those with severe symptoms are asked to seek emergency medical attention.

More information can be found on the Interior Health website.

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