BC health officials say they do not recommended using a mask to try to minimize the impact of wildfire smoke.
Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, says they may screen out larger particles, but they won’t protect your lungs from the smoky air.
“Surgical masks, or the paper masks that you can buy at most drug stores or hardware stores, really will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. Those ones are not of any use.”
Henry says the best thing you can do is try to stay out of the air, and to set-up a place in your home for clean air.
Henry says face masks called particulate respirators can help, but she says they can also make it difficult to breathe normally.
Henry says they absolutely don’t recommend using masks or respirators indoors which can add to the work of breathing, and can make your condition worse.
Photo courtesy of BBC
News release issued by Interior Health
Use of face masks during wildfire events
Interior Health (IH) has received a number of inquiries from the public about the use of face masks for protection against wildfire smoke. IH would like to emphasize the best protection for the public is to reduce overall exposure to smoke, recognizing masks have their limitations.
For example, paper dust masks found at retail stores do not provide protection from the particles found in smoke. Individuals have also inquired about specialized face masks known as N95 respirators. While certified N95 respirators can filter tiny particles out of inhaled air, they are not recommended in most circumstances for the following reasons:
• They must be properly fitted to each user to ensure protection. This process generally takes 20-30 minutes under the guidance of a professional with special equipment.
• Breathing is more challenging when wearing these masks, which is a concern for those with respiratory issues.
• There are no certified N95 respirators on the market designed to fit the faces of children.
• They stop working if saturated with water or sweat.
The exception to the above would be individuals who work outdoors. They may benefit from the use of N95 masks provided that they have been properly fitted 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.
Actions to reduce smoke exposure:
• 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
Smoke can affect each person differently, based on his or her health, age, and exposure. Smoke exposure is particularly a concern for those who have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, or diabetes. It is 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.
Symptoms to monitor:
• Difficulty breathing
• Chest pain and discomfort
• Irritated eyes, nose, and throat
If you are experiencing symptoms and are concerned contact your health care provider or walk- in clinic. If your symptoms are severe, seek emergency medical attention.
For more information on air quality and wildfire smoke visit our website https://www.interiorhealth.ca/YourEnvironment/EmergencyPreparedness/Major_Events/Pages/Air-Quality.aspx