keeping your lungs healthy throughout fire season

Keeping Your Lungs Healthy throughout Fire Season

Our hearts are heavy with the challenge that once again faces our community. Wildfires are already burning strong, and it’s only August. We may be facing an extended period of exposure to wildfire smoke, as well as an extended period of feeling unsettled and alert, here in Sonoma County. Sigh.

In an effort to serve our community as best we can, we wanted to share some wisdom and resources to help you keep your lungs healthy and protected from the smoke. We recognize that, for many of you, life does not currently afford the ability to engage in all of these self-care recommendations. So… pick one thing that you can do right now! Or, just come back to your breath, which is always there to help you ground.

Our main goals for maintaining lung health while the fires are burning are two-fold: primarily, of course, to prevent as much smoke inhalation as possible; secondarily, we want to keep the respiratory tract moist, so that your body can appropriately trap and excrete smoke particles that do make their way in. Here are some things you can do to help keep your lungs healthy…

  • Mask for smoke (vs. mask for COVID): We’re all used to wearing face masks at this point, but it may be time to consider changing your day-to-day mask. While double layer cotton masks are effective for COVID protection, they aren’t effective at keeping the particulate matter from smoke out of your lungs.
    • N95 or P100 masks are recommended if you’ll be spending significant time outside on smoky days. BUT… because of COVID, these masks are in short supply and should still be saved for our healthcare workers and other essential workers that need respiratory protection on the job. So, please try to use any that you already have on hand, rather than going out and buying a huge supply of new ones!
    • Vogmasks or similar masks that include filtration are a great reusable option to protect yourself while avoiding the consumption of valuable supplies needed by essential workers.
    • If you are using an N95 or Vogmask that has an exhalation valve, it is not COVID safe. Make sure you cover the valve with tape, or you wear a second-layer COVID-safe mask over it.
    • Masking properly is especially important for those of you with preexistent lung issues, for pregnant women, and for anyone working towards fertility (regardless of gender)!
  • Run air filters in your house on smoky days: Any HEPA filter will do, it doesn’t have to be fancy! If you don’t already own a HEPA filter, this video tells you how you can make one yourself, on the cheap.
  • Do daily steam baths: Get a bowl of steamy water, stick your face over the bowl (make sure you don’t burn yourself, obviously!), and toss a towel over your head to form a tent that traps the steam inside. Breathe deeply, and hang out there for 10 mins or so. This will help keep your respiratory passages nice and moist, and soothe that dry scratchy feeling that comes with continued smoke exposure.
  • Get lots of antioxidants: Wildfire smoke inhalation results in oxidative stress on the body. Antioxidants help to undo that damage. Eat more berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, dark chocolate and green tea! Oh, and red wine… that should help.
    • You can also consider supplementing antioxidants, including vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine (supports glutathione production), and selenium.
  • Stay hydrated: Simple, but crucial.
  • Drink tea: Some great options for supporting lung health are peppermint, green, ginger, licorice and / or turmeric tea. Add some honey to moisten the respiratory tract.
  • Eat pears: Pear season is just getting started – and the timing is a gift from nature. From a Chinese medicine perspective, pears are the perfect food to nourish and moisten the lungs. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you could cut a pear in half, drizzle some honey and cinnamon on it, and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350. Delicious and nutritious.
  • Process your grief: According to Chinese medicine theory, the lungs are the organ that help us process grief. So, when we have unresolved grief, it has the potential to muck up the function of the lungs. We realize it’s not particularly helpful to just say “deal with it!”, especially during a year filled with so much widespread grief. But consider setting some time aside in your day to think / talk / cry / yell / journal / sing about any grief you’re feeling in this moment, or any grief you may have stored up inside. And come back to your breath (slow, deep and steady) as a tool to help you process.
    • Likewise, putting effort into preserving the health of your lungs will help ensure you have the strength that you need to process the grief that comes with this painful moment in time.
  • Come in for acupuncture and herbs: Calm your spirit, protect your lungs, and get on the right herbal formula for this point in time. We’re still working at the clinic – book your appointment online, or be in touch with any questions.
  • Take care of your spiritual health: Dr Jen’s organization, Integrative Healers Action Network, has been sharing some great resources for this time. On Thursday at noon, they will be offering a live event on Facebook entitled Getting Your Spiritual Health Prepared for Fire Season.

We are with you in spirit through these challenging times. Once again, we’re all in this together – Sonoma strong!