Should you use a face mask to protect yourself from wildfire smoke?

That is a question many are asking according to the Province’s Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“We absolutely do not recommend wearing respirators or masks indoors, particularly the respirators add to the work of breathing and can make your condition worse. If you do choose to wear them outside, the surgical masks or the paper masks will not protect your lungs.”

Henry says while certified N95 respirators can filter tiny particles out of inhaled air, they are not recommended in most circumstances as they can make breathing more challenging and must be properly fitted to each user. The respirators can also stop working if saturated with water or sweat. She recommends anyone wanting to wear one to seek advice from their family physician.

Both Henry and Interior Health say the best actions to reduce smoke exposure are:

  • When at home ensure that air conditioners are on recirculate and consider using a portable air cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter or an electrostatic precipitator
  • Keep windows and doors closed when possible
  • Seek out public spaces with cleaner air, such as shopping malls or community centres
  • Limit your time outside
  • Reduce activity in smoky environments: the harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale
  • Stay cool, drink plenty of water

Smoke exposure is particularly a concern for those who have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, or diabetes.It is also a concern for pregnant women, infants, young children, and the elderly.

“When smoke levels become very high, even healthy people can be affected and everyone should be monitoring their systems and taking appropriate action to protect their health,” says Interior Health.

Updates on air quality throughout the province can be found online at BC Air Quality.