Healing Your Lungs After Smoke Exposure

The sun is finally starting to peak through the smoke after several days of most of us being sheltered inside. However, most of us have been and may continue to be, exposed to smoke particles that can cause lung damage.

Smoke exposure can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like irritated sinuses, eye irritation, sore throat, cough, headaches, and shortness of breath. It can trigger asthma attacks, COPD exacerbations, and make the overall immune system more vulnerable to other diseases, including COVID, flu, and pneumonia.

The real concern is the fine particles--2.5 microns or less in diameter, which can't be seen by the naked eye. These are the biggest health hazard. They’re so small you can’t see them.

Here are several tips to help you prevent or detox from smoke injury and protect your lungs from long-term damage after wildfire smoke inhalation:

1. Water. Drink LOTS of Water (and NOT from plastic!)

Wildfire smoke inhalation causes microscopic particles to get trapped in your lungs

There is a working theory that water helps flush these particles from your system. Ten, 8-ounce glasses of water is a good target in general. If you’re detoxing, aim to increase this intake to 12 or 14 glasses.

Bonus Tip: A good ‘hot liquid’ drink can be made by steeping Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Root in hot water. These two herbs support, moisten, and relax the fragile tissues in your mouth, throat, and lungs.

COVID + smoke detox Bonus: Other good ways to increase water along with immune support include infusing warm water with fresh lemon and local honey. There is some data that shows drinking hot fluids can also “flush” viruses into the GI tract, preventing them from making their way to the lungs.

2. Use a Saline Nasal Spray

It’s easy for smoke exposure to cause irritated sinuses, irritation to the eyes, and shortness of breath. A saline nasal spray can help you moisten and soothe the inside of your nose. This can promote the expulsion of foreign matter and provide immediate relief. This is safe for children as well, and is a great treatment for sinus congestion all year long.

3. Rinse Sinus with a Neti Pot

This helps you remove foreign substances—be sure to boil the water first and then allow to become warm (don’t use cold water). When you’re exposed to smoke, pollutants can easily get trapped in your nasal passage. If allowed to remain, they can easily travel to the lungs and cause additional issues.

Generally, a rinsing with a neti pot can reduce congestion and improve symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and dry nasal passages. This is one of my go-to home treatments when I have a sinus infection or cold.

4. Breathe Steam-- with Thyme

Thyme has a wide variety of benefits, including:

· Anti- Microbial

· Anti-Viral

· Anti-Fungal

Breathing a steam, rich with thyme, can help expel foreign substances, clear passageways, and reduce the irritation level of your sinuses. The simplest way to create thyme-filled steam is to add 1 – 2 TBS of thyme to a large bowl. Pour in boiling water. Lower your head so it’s inches from the hot water. Cover head and bowl with a large towel, trapping steam under the towel. Breathe deeply for 1 – 2 minutes. Repeat as needed.

Don’t have time for thyme or can’t source it? Plain steam is great too! Euctalyptus is also helpful!

This is also great all year long for colds and sinus problems and allergies.

5. Increase your consumption of antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals.

Free radicals are waste substances produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. This can harm cells and body function.

Factors that increase the production of free radicals in the body can be internal, such as inflammation, or external, for example, pollution, UV exposure, and cigarette smoke.

The best sources of antioxidants are plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Buy pesticide/spray free (organic!) whenever possible to limit exposure to even more chemicals and toxins.

Foods with rich, vibrant colors often contain the most antioxidants.

Foods that are particularly high in antioxidants are often referred to as a “superfood” or “functional food.”

Examples of antioxidants found in found include:

Vitamin A: Dairy produce, eggs, and liver

Vitamin C: Most fruits and vegetables, especially berries, oranges, and bell peppers

Vitamin E: Nuts and seeds, sunflower and other vegetable oils, and green, leafy vegetables

Beta-carotene: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes

Lycopene: Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon