What kinds of masks will protect you in the smoke?

Unhealthy air due to wildfires

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Fires from around the Northwest have caused the poor air quality we are seeing not just in the Portland area but in many other parts of Oregon and Washington.

Portland's air quality has been listed as unhealthy for all as of Tuesday.

One of the first things people do when they see all the smoke: Run to the nearest hardware store to grab a mask.

Doctors tell us that the best thing someone can do if they’re sensitive to all of this smoke is to stay indoors. If you have no choice but to be outside, there’s nothing that’s going to be 100 percent effective - but some masks will help.

"That's probably the most important thing to understand is what the difference is in the different masks." said allergist Dr. Charles Webb.

That’s because not every mask you can buy is going to protect you from all this smoke.

"Our surgical masks primarily are designed to try and protect other people from what's coming out of our body to keep them from catching infectious disease from somebody else, but it's not so good for filtering small particles,” Dr. Webb said.

You want to choose a mask that either has "NIOSH" or "R95", "N95", or "P95", or higher printed on the packaging.

“It's designed to filter out 95 percent of the particles that are in the air,” Dr. Webb said. “Something's outside that you want to protect your lungs, this would be the mask that would be effective for you."

However, before you go and buy one, health officials suggest you talk with your doctor about how to wear one properly, and to make sure it doesn’t impact your breathing in other ways.

“It does restrict your breathing. So it's not something that you're going to be able to wear normally and not expect to feel some effects from it,” Dr. Colby Adams, an official with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said.

Dr. Adams says the best thing those with heart or lung disease can do is to stay indoors with the air conditioner on and the windows shut.

“If you have central air conditioning use a filter that is rated MERV 8 or higher. These filters will actually help reduce the amount of particulate that's in the air,” Dr. Adams said.

When you’re driving he also suggests your air conditioner is re-circulating the air.

“The air is being circulated through a filter that will reduce the amount of particulates that you're breathing,” Dr. Adams said.

While all of this smoke can pose a lot of different problems for those with heart or lung disease, most healthy people will get some type of irritation, like a sore throat or coughing, but it’s not going to cause long-term health problems.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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