PORTLAND, Ore. — Our team set out to Verify what kinds of masks can actually protect you amid wildfire smoke, and which ones are a waste of time.
Pollutants from wildfires have turned the Pacific Northwest into a hazy mess the past few days, coating Portland and Seattle in a thick haze.
"It's basically like getting particulate smoke getting into your lungs, so any kind of chronic exposure to this can cause some significant issues over time," Associate Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care in the OHSU School of Medicine Gopal Allada said.
The Air Quality Index has hovered around unhealthy for all groups and unhealthy for sensitive groups, and those who have to be outside for prolonged periods of time have started donning masks in hopes of protecting their lungs.
"For sure what most people are feeling the effects by coughing, choking on their particulate matter and getting short of breath," Dr. Allada said.
And when it comes to protecting yourself during bad air quality days, not all masks are created equal.
Putting on a plain surgical mask, a one-strap paper mask or a bandana is almost useless.
"The ones that most people can get at stores are surgical masks or even bandanas... the particles that end up in your lungs are so small, they can go right through those [masks]," Dr. Allada said.
You should be looking for masks with the NIOSH, N-95 or P-100 designation. These masks are much more powerful and can protect you from the tiny particle pollutants in the air. Make sure the mask has two straps and it covers your nose, as well as the area below your chin.
If the inside gets dirty or you feel it's harder to breathe, try a new one.
You can find these "particulate respirator" masks at hardware stores, pharmacies or online -- we found them for sale on Amazon for about $10 to $15 for a packet of 20.