By Rebecca Rinck, Healthy Aggies Intern
About a week ago, I got up early, got my coffee, and did my usual morning routine intending to have a relaxing but productive day. I had just moved into my new apartment in Davis, so I wanted to take a long walk outside and do some exploring, and maybe even visit the campus cows! However, much to my dismay, the familiar smell of wildfire smoke instantly hit me as soon as I stepped outside. While I have previously dealt with the side effects of smoke inhalation from wildfires living in California all my life, they were never in the volume, length, or intensity of these past few months. The unprecedented blaze of wildfires rolling through the west coast, plus the existing COVID-19 pandemic, brings about an urgency to protect our lungs!
The common effects of smoke inhalation include coughing, wheezing, dry throat, irritated sinuses, and headaches. I don’t know about you, but feeling ill is the last thing I want right now with school just starting. And while it is ideal to stay inside away from any possible contamination, this is unfortunately not realistic. So, while these do not claim to “cure” any side effect from smoke inhalation, here are some at-home treatments that helped me feel a bit better:
Wear a Mask – Start with prevention.
But not just any mask, as they do not filter out the small particles that are found in wildfire smoke. Instead, it is recommended to wear a particulate respiratory mask or an N95 mask, if available. I was thankful to have saved some for use during the pandemic.
I know this is what everyone tells you, but trust me, they’re right. The dryer your throat gets, the worse it feels. Drink plenty of water or use a cough-drop to help soothe your throat! Staying hydrated can also aid sinus irritation by keeping your nasal passages moist. Additionally, smoke inhalation can cause particles to get trapped in your lungs, and water helps flush them out.
Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer
I originally bought a humidifier to use for my houseplants, but it has been life-changing for my dry throat during the fire season. Breathing steam can also help moisten your throat and nasal passages. Additionally, putting the essential oils in thyme and eucalyptus into your diffuser or humidifier can help loosen phlegm so you can naturally cough them out. Don’t have a humidifier? Stovetop steaming is also an easy method to nourish the lungs. Fill a large pot with water and your preferred herbs, then boil!
Eat Extra Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits have immune-boosting vitamin C, and Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant! These fruits also contain bioflavonoids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties that may help calm airways back down after irritation. Good thing I already have a stock of Cuties tangerines!
Ginger appears to have natural detoxifying properties; it can be prepared in numerous ways but my favorite is as tea or eaten as a ginger chew. It is a favorite in my family for just about anything because of its immune system boosting properties. My grandma always made me ginger tea, and my aunt still carries ginger chews in her purse!
Using any of the ideas above may help with the short-term effects and the long-term effects of wildfire smoke inhalation and also help with irritations that wintery air can bring! Let us know if you have your own for us to try!