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Dealing with Smoke in the Valley

2017 has been one of the worst fire seasons in terms of air quality due to smoke precipitate. Wildfire smoke is a combination of particles and gases, both of which can cause damage to sensitive mucosa. For those who suffer from respiratory illnesses, the irritation due to the smoke may trigger much more serious immune responses that aggravate asthma, bronchitis, COPD and emphysema.

All of us living here in the Rogue Valley should familiarize themselves with sites that report air quality indices. I recommend aqicn.org (You will need to set the template for Medford, OR). This site describes our air quality in terms of PM2.5. This refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair. PM2.5 is ranked an a numerical scale. Anything below 50 is considered to be healthy. The average rating in Medford over the past month has been about 170 or "unhealthy". During the first week of September, the air quality in Medford was 325 or "hazardous for all individuals". As a point of reference, during the same time, the air quality in Beijing (one of the most polluted cities in the world) was ranked at 75.

Studies have found a close link between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart and lung disease. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 levels may lead to plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and a hardening of the arteries which can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke. Other studies -some in animals in some in humans- link long term exposure to elevated PM2.5 levels leads to liver fibrosis (scarring) and increased insulin resistance and diabetes.

Frightening as the reality might be, most of us are bound here by family or career. Still there is much that can be done to protect yourself and your homes from excessive exposure to PM2.5 particles.

(1) Stay inside. You won't hear me saying this often, but the fact is that once the air quality index rises above 150, the risks of being outdoors for long periods of time outweighs the drudgery of being indoors. If you do go outside, try to stay by rivers, where the air quality index tends to be better.

(2) Change your air filters. My house has central heat and air conditioning. During periods of healthy air quality, I change my air filter once a season. This summer, the filter has become saturated every three weeks! Don't forget about the cabin and air filters in your car either.

(3) Invest in disposable face masks. These must be rated N95 or better. This designation refers to the ability of the mask to filter 95% of the particles. If you work outdoors, this is an essential aid. Make sure the masks are sealed snugly or they will be rendered useless. Expect to pay about $1.00 per mask.

(4) Don’t increase particulate matter in the air. Avoid lighting candles, woodstoves or fireplaces. Don't cook food at high temperatures and postpone vacuuming. All of these activities increase particulate density.

(5) Home HEPA filters can help cut down on particulate matter in the air indoors. A top quality HEPA filter may cost $400 but there are less expensive ones too.

(6) Stay hydrated. Instead of sports drinks or energy drinks, try a nourishing infusion of vinegar (berry and/or mint vinegars are great this way) diluted in cool water. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.

(7) Eat well. Consume a high amount of fruits and vegetables. Smoke contains a tremendous amount of reactive oxygen species (oxidants). The more colorful your foods are, the higher the level of antioxidants.

(8) Herbal remedies are extremely versatile. Not only can they sooth and calm irritated mucous membranes, but they can also provide nutrients, gently promote expulsion of particulate matter and provide strong anti-oxidant support. This article is too limited to provide an adequate list of helpful botanicals but some to consider would be Slippery Elm (Ulmus), Mallow (Althea), Lobelia, Elecampane (Osha), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza) and Oregon Grape Root (Hydrastis).

(9) Increase your supplemental antioxidants. Vitamin E has been shown to be depleted by smoke inhalation, L-arginine increases oxygenation of lung tissue and vitamin C has shown to have a protective effect on the lungs. While oral vitamin C is highly recommended, the versatility of intravenous vitamin C cannot be overlooked: One study demonstrated that a single infusion of high dose IV Vitamin C successfully counteracted the oxidative effects of smoke inhalation. Finally, glutathione, one of the most potent antioxidants produced by the body, is needed in high levels in the lungs. Take about 1.5 grams per day. Levels of glutathione can also be increased by taking the nutrient N-acetyl cysteine.

Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at drdanielnd@gmail.com. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.