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Ways to cope with thick wildfire smoke  RSS feed

 
master steward
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Suffering from the smoke here in southern BC.  It's like a freaky fog, and it stings the eyes and throat. Heath warning is extremely dangerous... our air quality meter that the government has only goes up to ten.  I think we are at about fifteen last night, and getting worse.

As bad as it is here, we have some of the best air quality in the province.  Talking to people who have traveled in the province this week, I feel very thankful that it's not so bad here. 

But even healthy people around me are suffering from the effects.

So let's brainstorm natural ways to combat poor air quality and for dealing with symptoms.

Avoiding is good, for those who can.  But not everyone has that option.  Many of us have to work in this smog.


My first thought is there is some rather splended mullion growing in my yard.  Can I wash the ash off that and make something to help breathing?
 
garden master
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Excerpt from this site: https://www.everygreenherb.com/smokeInhalation.html

"Mullein helps heal damaged lung tissue.
Herbs can really help to heal smoke damaged tissue and mucus membranes. Building immunity is also important for healing. Try astragalus, ginseng, yellowroot, and licorice tea or capsules. Eat oatmeal, yogurt, and bananas to soothe the throat.
Problems from smoke inhalation and second hand smoke
People with asthma, emphysema, heart disease, sinus problems, and allergies are especially prone to developing problems from smoke. Common symptoms from smoke inhalation and breathing second hand smoke include fatigue, coughing, throat irritation, watering eyes, sinus congestion, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches, and nose bleeds.
Protect mucus membranes from smoke
Smoke in the air? Stay hydrated! Drink lots of water and herbal teas with lemon. Also drink mullein tea.
It may also help to irrigate the sinuses with a weak saline solution (salt water).
It is unpleasant but can bring relief to the sinuses – just snort some warm salt water from a bowl up into your nose then blow it back out into a tissue...."


And if tinctures is your thing... From https://www.aromaculture.com/blog/herbal-aromatherapy-for-smoke-inhalation

"My main allies throughout this fire season have been Hawthorn and Plantain (Plantago sp.) tincture. A dropperful of Plantain every couple of hours on the worst days has been helping to clear my symptoms quickly and on more mild days, a dropperful in the morning and one in the evening has been sufficient. After we come in from doing our garden chores in the mornings, I take a dropperful in orange juice and it has been tremendously effective for me. You could also consider using Nettle tincture, Mullein, or Marshmallow. The Plantain helps to soothe the mucous membranes and break down the excess mucous that accumulates because of the irritation caused by the smoke and inhaling other particles in the air. There are other herbs that can be used, but I have found that keeping it simple has yielded the best results for me, personally."
 
gardener
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I've been wearing a mask a lot this summer: A cloth wrapped around my face. It helps. And I've stopped running temporarily due to air quality.
 
gardener
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I know in general that trees and other plants improve air quality. In this sort of situation with bad forest fire smoke would having healthy trees on your property help? Just wondering how much better say a food forest could make air when it is already so bad...

Air quality down here in Olympia really sucks right now. We are rated at very unhealthy right below the worst rating of hazardous. Same thing happened last year though this year is even worse...
 
gardener
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I live very close to miss Ranson and the smoke is quite bad here. They say not to exert yourself. I have torn down a chimney and done other physical work during this time. I wear a high-grade asbestos mask that filters out particles to some freakishly small size. I can't even smell the smoke when I'm wearing the mask. I wear it when I'm stripping stucco, cutting any material that makes dust etcetera. It's become so second nature, that I don't feel any discomfort with having it on all of the time. If the smoke was to get really bad, I might even sleep with it on.

I think anyone with a young baby would be wise to get one of those single room HEPA filter units. They also filter down to a very small particle size.
 
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Mullein would definitely be my first ally. Mullein tea throughout the day and at night. Rose water drops are nice for the eyes when they are getting battered. I'm not as familiar with hawthorne or plantain for respiratory stuff but they are both lovely plant friends, I would also search herbal references for the term 'expectorant' as that refers to plants that help expel ick from the lungs. and a damp bandana mask during the day will help mitigate the smoke, maybe dampened with mullein tea? We have been getting intermittent crappy smoke days here in coastal norcal but I am certainly feeling for the friends who are inland.
 
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Best de-icker/expectorant in my book has to be Coltsfoot flower Tussilago. Have used it on a nasty dry cough (sanding down old roofbeams) and when I do singing recitals. It's always worked for me and has a long history of use by opera singers...and the roots can be candied and the leaves smoked (Pliny's asma cure). Contains pyrrhozoic alkaloids or sumpfin like that, so don't over do it...
 
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Surely leaving the area would be on the list of alternatives.
 
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I have found mullein to be rather "furry" so don't like the tea which seems to exacerbate the problem of coughing/tickling in throat.  However, the tincture is great - especially if you take it as soon as you start having lung issues.  i made a large batch of it with the leaves/flowers and it's been great and has lasted well.  (We are having smoke and air quality issues in OR too and I've been taking it a couple times a day.)

I like the suggestion of the mask as well.

Here's to hoping the rain comes and puts out the fires soon.  We have some forecasted for this weekend!
 
author
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My wife has a blog where she recently posted about how to deal with smoke and air pollution in the home. In it she advocates the use of small portable air filters. We have one of these and I am impressed with how well it clarifies the air and how quiet it is. See http://simplegreenliving.com/3791/using-air-filter-distant-forest-fire-smoke/?wphyperspeed=1533917087
 
gardener
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Similar to Dale and Joseph, the only way I deal with PM 2.5 pollution is through filtration. If working outside, wear a mask. If inside, close windows and doors when possible and if you have a central A/C system, set the fan to recirculate and change your filters more often. Also don't add to the problem — broiling meat, open flames, vacuuming, etc.
 
garden master
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Lung problems have been a big deal for me.  Something I've learned - our bodies do most of their really valuable healing at night, particularly when sleeping, and according to traditional Chinese medicine, at around 10pm is optimal. 

So one things seem to make a big difference with lung stuff, in my experience - creating a "clean room" where you sleep.  Medically speaking, a true clean room is very hard to create and takes a lot of care and some equipment.  But you can make your own home version by keeping your bedroom very clean, dust regularly, have hard surface flooring if possible, and don't bring shoes, unwashed (like worn today even) clothes, or much of any outside stuff into that room.  Also keeping the door closed, then add filtration of some sort - minimally a HEPA, or if affordable a charcoal based filtration.  If you want to be really careful, you only go in the room after showering, too.  It's also best to not have plants with soil in this room, as molds and such grow in their soil.  I'm not against plants in the house in general - just not in the clean room. Tillandsias would probably be fine.

This setup can do wonders.  If you are spending 6-8 hours a day (night) resting in your clean room that gives the lungs an body an amazing chance to recover from the day.  Normally I live with the windows open at night especially, but if the outdoor air isn't good for some reason then the clean room method can give my body some delicious recoup time.

Another term for this is a sleep sanctuary.  Here's a really in depth version of how to make one: Biotoxin Journey's Sleep Sanctuary

Oh, and a couple more things... extra Vitamin C helps the lungs, too. People have cured their asthma just with that at times.  Vitamin C and also glutathione can be nebulized: vaporized and inhaled with a nebulizer.
 
master steward
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John C Daley wrote:Surely leaving the area would be on the list of alternatives.



I have no idea how I would do this, or where I would go. I have family in Oregon and Idaho...both have smoke. Everywhere in my entire state is full of smoke--smoke that is coming from 100s of miles away. And, if I were to leave my house, who would care for my ducks? There aren't any "clean-air shelters" that I can find. We spend most of our time going from store to store, or visiting the library and using all of those places air conditioning/filtered air. We also went to the mall and used their play area for a few hours, as my kids are 1 and 4 (side note: the play area was the only wing of the mall that actually had people in it, so it looks like the smoke is probably good for the waning malls that usually get few visitors due to internet shopping). But, we can't sleep in the mall or these stores.

We also use our garage as a sort of "air lock." We enter through the small human-sized garage door. Close it, and then open the door that goes from our garage to our house. We don't use our front door, so as not to bring in all that ucky air.

Last night we gave in and hauled out the large--and largely ineffective--standing air conditioner. We couldn't open the window to cool the house, and it was 80 F, which is not good for little ones. 

People in our area are also buying big box fans and taping air filters to them, as a cheep airfilter. I'm tempted to try it...

 
raven ranson
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Leaving the smoke.  That would be lovely.  Besides all the animals on the farm, the news said it was blowing all the way to Ontario (past the halfway mark to the Atlantic).  Thankfully our city is one of the 'cleanest' in BC right now.  Visibility is moderate low, but no worse than it is in winter mist.  It just smells like someone threw plastic sacks of sugar on a huge bonfire. 

I like the idea of spending time in the library.  They have great climate control to protect the books and other resources.

 
John C Daley
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So leaving is discarded, do the animals suffer as well?
Is the whole place on fire?
Deliberate or lightning strikes?
 
raven ranson
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We have nearly six hundred wildfires in British Columbia at the moment.  More in the surrounding areas.  Not quite as bad as last year in many ways, but the smoke is heavier due to the spread out nature of the fires.  Most of them are natural.  more about it here.  If you look at NASA pictures of the smoke, you can see how large an area it covers.

The animal do suffer.  Their water consumption doubles in these conditions.  They are markedly less active.  They stay closer to deciduous trees.

There is not much we can do for them except keep their diet consistent and avoid stress.
 
Kyle Neath
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I know that if I didn't live in California, I wouldn't have the slightest idea about how large these fires are. It's not really a thing you can "escape" from in large part because the distance it travels spans most of the continent. A lot of people look at images of wildfire smoke across California and don't realize that California is as long as about 17,482 states in the east coast, midwest, or several europes… I kid, I kid — but seriously, California is large. And these wildifres span from California all the way up North through Oregon, Washington, and BC — multiples of length of California. This smoke travels across a great portion of the northern hemisphere.



This is also super complicated by the fact that when the wind changes, so does the smoke. We haven't had wildfires this season close to us, but smoke from the Ferguson (Yosemite) and Carr (Redding) fires affects us almost daily. Every day it oscillates which one is sending us smoke. Some days it's clear. Some days it's thick. These fires are about 250 miles apart as the crow flies.
 
raven ranson
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This image helps to show BCs smoke in relation to much of North America.



It has been a lot better this year with the fire season starting a month later than normal.  Even still, I heard that we are having the fourth worst year ever.  More fires concentrated over less time.

If the air clears up enough tomorrow, I'm going to go out and harvest my mullion.  Not sure what I'm doing, but a tincture from the root sounds good.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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I received an email from  Rosalee de la Forêt of LearningHerbs.com about brewing tea with cold water instead of hot. More of the soothing musilage is available when cold is used, less of the minerals which come out with heat. https://learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/tulsi-tea/?utm_source=&utm_medium=&utm_term=&utm_content=Don%E2%80%99t+use+hot+water+to+make+this+tea...&utm_campaign=

Mullien has mucilage!

"Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)
Mullein leaves and flowers are classified in traditional herbal literature as expectorants (promotes the discharge of mucus) and demulcents (soothes irritated mucous membranes). Historically, mullein has been used by herbalists as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion.1 Some herbal texts extend the therapeutic use to pneumonia and asthma.2 Due to its mucilage content, mullein has also been used topically by herbalists as a soothing emollient for inflammatory skin conditions and burns." From: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2133009

Mucilage is typically located in the midrib of the leaves when present in a plant. The midrib of the new yellow and curly dock (those that you can still see the fold lines on) also have this wonder mucilage.

Other herbs with mucilage, and how they help. https://www.herbazest.com/wellness-articles/5-herbs-with-mucilage-and-how-they-help
 
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Thanks for the herbal remedy recommendations.

Other things I do during wildfire season:
- Shower regularly.  It's not much, but the shower does clean the air, and also provides welcome humidity to help my lungs.  A few years ago when the smoke was super thick, I found my hair getting stickier from creosote, and getting all that off your skin and clothes seems worth doing.  Terrible to imagine the lungs struggling with the same stuff.
- Make sure and eat my leafy greens, blueberries, fresh eggs, and other healthy foods.  It can be tempting to go to junk food, or binge on tomatoes for three days, when cooking is not fun.  But I feel my energy is better if I'm getting those nutrient-dense foods, and healing is probably better too.
- Bandanna, filter mask, or respirator: An old cotton bandanna, cowboy-style, is some help during really bad smoke.  I don't usually use masks except when I'm actively working on a wildfire, but I probably should.  I would recommend them for those who may have greater susceptibility to respiratory problems.

- Pray for rain!  We just had our first sprinkle here, barely enough to wet the ground, but it's a welcome sign that relief is coming.

-Erica
 
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Just when the smoke stopped washing back and forth from BC and Oregon we had a local wiled fire to the south west where our clean air was coming from. It is drizzling tonight so I may get some work done tomorrow.

I have been able to keep the house air good with a combination of an ionizing filter feeding air into a Filter Queen fine particle filter with a charcoal wrap. Normally the ionizing filter puts out to much ozone but the combination seems to be using up the ozone in the cleaning process.

I sealed some mullein tea last time we had a big thread on it and then used it later that winter when I needed it. will have to make more this winter for next summer.
 
steward
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raven ranson wrote:
My first thought is there is some rather splended mullion growing in my yard.  Can I wash the ash off that and make something to help breathing?


I know you've had loads of good replies already, and hopefully things have improved, though I wanted to link to this thread:

herbs for smoke inhalation or respiratory stress from dust, etc.

There were some herbs in the linked articles that are new to me.

My Naturopath felt that folks who had been quite near to forest fires were still suffering after-effects almost a year later - a bit like PTSD. The stress is huge, even the stress of not being able to breathe, so stress reduction and recovery is important, too.
 
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