Five Ways To Protect Your Lungs During A Wildfire

With wildfires burning across California, smoke has quickly traveled across the state, blanketing the Bay Area with smoke that causes the air to be as polluted as the air in Beijing. While poor air quality is most dangerous to people who are elderly and those who suffer from chronic heart and lung diseases, it’s important for everyone to know how to stay safe when the air is filled with wildfire smoke.

1) Limit your time outdoors.

When the air quality is poor, the safest thing to do is stay indoors as much as possible. By staying inside with doors and windows closed, you’ll limit the amount of harmful particles that can cause inflammation in your eyes, throat and lungs.

2) Buy an N-95 mask.

If you do have to go outdoors, wear a mask! Please note that surgical masks (the kind with loops that go over your ears that you can buy off the shelf at pharmacies) aren’t effective against wildfire smoke. Neither are handkerchiefs or scarves tied over your mouth and nose. The only way to effectively protect your lungs is to use industrial-grade N-95 masks, which are usually sold at home improvement stores.

3) Use an air filter.
While it’s a great start to stay inside your home with the doors and windows closed, it’s still possible for microscopic particles from wildfire smoke to infiltrate window sashes and doorframes, leading to unhealthy air in your home. It’s wise to invest in a high-quality air filter that will help to eliminate as many of these harmful particles as possible.

4) Don’t vacuum.
When your area is affected by wildfire smoke, the EPA recommends that you avoid vacuuming, since vacuuming can stir up dust and other particles that make the air you’re breathing even more toxic to your lungs. Wait until the air quality returns to a healthy level before you tackle the vacuuming on your to-do list.

5) Don’t smoke.
Smoking is always bad for your health, but when the air quality worsens during a wildfire, it’s more important than ever to avoid smoking, since the contaminants in tobacco products add to the carcinogenic particles you’re inhaling into your lungs.


At Golden Gate Urgent Care, we have six Bay Area locations to serve you and your family seven days a week. Make an appointment online or simply walk in to get the care you need.

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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