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
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
Lutein: Green, leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges
Selenium: Rice, corn, wheat, and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes
Other foods that are believed to be good sources of antioxidants include:
legumes such as black beans or kidney beans
green and black teas
Generally speaking, you’ll get far more nutrients from eating raw foods rather than cooked!
6. Load Your Diet with Ginger and other natural anti-inflammatories
Ginger is another fabulous, natural detoxifier. Not only does it contain chemical compounds that help the lungs function, ginger improves blood circulation. Caution if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking anti-coagulants.
Tumeric/curcumin is another wonderful anti-inflammatory that has been shown to be very helpful for IBS, joint pain, and anxiety as well!
7. Up Your Vitamin C
Another natural antioxidant is Vitamin C--the best source is fresh citrus!
8. Up Your Glutathione Levels
Glutathione is another natural antioxidant. There is some data that shows it may support the production of cellular energy and can help protect your DNA from oxidative damage (a common side effect of smoke exposure).
9 Avoid “additional exposures”
During smoke exposure and for several weeks after, it is crucial to allow your respiratory system time to heal by avoiding inhalation paints, nailpolish, tobacco and marijuana smoke, chemical cleaning agents, hairsprays, spray sunscreens, etc.
10. Increase your circulation and deep breathing for cleansing
If you have a very smoke free environment to exercise in, keep exercising, which will aid in pulmonary hygiene and respiratory health—otherwise, avoid exercising in any poor air quality or you can cause more harm than good to your lungs
11. Practice Pulmonary Hygiene—otherwise known in medicine as pulmonary toilet—these include exercises and procedures that help to clear your airways of mucus and other secretions. This ensures that your lungs get enough oxygen and your respiratory system works efficiently. Cardio exercise is the best was to practice natural pulmonary hygiene—others include the cough/deep breath method, and the pulmonary breathing method (inhale deeply into the stomach, hold for 5, exhale through the nose for 5)
12. If you haven’t already, smoke-proof your home using fans with a filter taped to the back of them, closing off vents to the fireplace (turn off the pilot light first!), placing plastic over the fireplace vents and towels under door cracks, taping any doors or windows around the edges where smoke may be getting in (if you do seal your home, it is advisable to have a working carbon monoxide detector as well)
13. Wear an N95 if you have one outside and/or while driving in your car. Turn your car on re-circ air while air quality is in the unhealthy or higher range (you can easily google the air quality rating for your area).
14. Support your immune system-smoke toxins, in addition to be trapped inside, will increase your vulnerability to other illnesses such as COVID, flu, pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), bronchitis, and more. Stay ahead of the germs by giving your body antibodies that are prepared to fight these germs.
The best way to achieve immunity is via immunizations for flu, pneumonia, and pertussis. It can take about 2 weeks for most vaccines to create immunity, so the sooner the better.
Some of my favorite immune supporting plant-based medicines and supplements include L-lysine, zinc, oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, Vit C, Vit D, elderberry, and zinc. However, not all of these interact safely with certain medications or medical conditions, so always ask your provider before starting a new supplement or herb.
15. Diffuse, Boil, Humidify
If you own a diffuser, now is the time to dust it off! Diffusing or boiling water with lavendar, rosemary, cedar, thyme, or euctalyptus can help with odor and potentially decrease particulate matter by causing smoke particles to attach to the oils and water.
Likewise, adding humidity to the air is for important to keep fragile respiratory tissues healthy and less vulnerable to infection.
Add plants to your home and workspace! Plants are nature's great natural air purifier! They also aid in reducing anxiety! (You'll notice if you visit Hearthside Medicine clinic that we have plants everywhere!)
About the author:
Havilah Brodhead, RN, MSN, Family Nurse Practitioner
Havilah is the owner of Hearthside Medicine Family Care, an integrative medicine primary care practice for the whole family in Bend, OR. She is accepting new patients, accepts most insurances, and is a big believer in food as medicine and prevention. Learn more at www.hearthsidemedicine.com