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Hanging haze: Protect kids from poor air quality

Air quality unhealthy for some may linger

Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire, which was 90 percent contained but still burning Tuesday morning, is likely to  linger over King County for the next few days. At the same time, a fire burning on 3,338 acres near Goat Rock has not been contained and may increase the amount of smoke and haze in the region.

Here we go again. This round of gritty gray follows close behind the smoke screen that led Seattle to have one of the worst air quality scores in the world earlier this month.

No matter what time of year it is, keeping an eye on air quality in the Puget Sound region is always important when it comes to protecting kids health.

For a number of reasons, including the fact that kids simply breathe at a faster rate than adults, children are at higher risk for illness or other negative health impacts when air quality is poor. According to a report this week in The New York Times, smoke can be particularly damaging to lungs, which can throw off immune systems and make people young and old more susceptible to colds, flu or other illnesses.

Here are tips to help your family avoid or lessen impacts of poor air quality due to pollution or smoke exposure:

Monitor air quality

Check in frequently with AirNow or Puget Sound Clean Air, two air quality monitoring organizations. They use a color scheme to indicate air quality: Green for good, yellow for moderate, orange means air is unhealthy for sensitive groups like people with asthma or other health concerns, and red means the air is unhealthy for all populations. Monitors also provide a numeric quality rating system. Anything under 100 on the Air Quality Index is good. Anything over 150 is concerning.

Stock up on medicine 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions parents to store a 7 to 10-day supply of prescription medicines in a waterproof, childproof container and keep it on hand in case of a smoke low air quality condition.

Stock up on no-cook groceries 

According to the CDC, frying or grilling especially can make indoor air pollution worse.

Consider a trip away

In cases of extremely poor air quality or lingering poor air quality, consider going away with a child with asthma or another medical concern that pollutants might exacerbate. The CDC reminds parents: “Smoke can remain in both indoor and outdoor air days after wildfires have ended so continue to check local air quality.”

Bring out the masks

They aren’t as comfortable, but N95 masks are the best in terms of protecting kids and adults from smoke or pollution intake. Says the CDC: Remember that dust masks, surgical masks, bandanas and breathing through a wet cloth will not protect your child from smoke and that N95 respirator masks are not made to fit children and may not protect them.”

Don’t make it worse

Try not to add to poor air quality. Avoid using aerosols, frying or broiling, burning wood or candles, or smoking indoors.

Seal you home

To ensure that the outside’s poor air quality stays outside, be sure your home is buttoned down. Repair cracks in windows and consider plastic sealing around windows and tape around doors with poor sealing.

Use air purifiers and AC

KidsHealth.com makes the following recommendation: “On days when air quality is poor, run the air conditioning and limit your child’s time outside. Plan any outdoor activities for early in the day — when air quality tends to be better.”

High-efficiency particulate air (or HEPA) purifiers or central air systems equipped with high-efficiency “MERV 13” filters can cut smoke exposure by half or more, according to the New York Times. 

Don’t drive

Time spent in a car is time spent in pollution. If you must drive, avoid areas with high traffic. Healthychildren.org recommends that when driving keep windows closed. Turn the air-conditioning to re-circulate. Replace air filters according to your vehicle maintenance schedule.

While you are at it, avoid using other gasoline-powered equipment until the late evening or until the air quality improves. And don’t use paints, solvents, or varnishes that produce fumes during poor air quality times. 

Stay inside 

If you go outside, make it short. 

Curb exertion

Keep exercise to a minimum in times of poor air quality to reduce the pace of breathing.

Keep kids away from ash

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend keeping kids away from deposited ash, not involving them in cleaning pollutants, and washing hands thoroughly after coming inside.

Watch for asthmatic or other symptoms

If medicine helps control your child’s asthma, stockpile extra doses during fire season. And stay attuned to your kid’s reactions: watch for coughing and wheezing, and check whether they’re developing headaches or a dry mouth.

If a child has trouble breathing, becomes sleepy or refuses food or water, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends seeking cleaner air and medical attention. 

More on Seattle’s Child:

“Inside fun: Keep busy while Seattle skies are smoky”

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.