If there’s one thing that can ruin a beautiful summer’s day, it’s smog. Whether linked to wildfire smoke or not, this air pollution isn’t just unpleasant. It can lead to serious health problems. We’re not immune to smog in winter either, especially in regions where many people use wood-burning fireplaces.

Smog is a toxic mixture of tropospheric ozone, a highly irritating gas produced by human activity, and tiny particulate matter. Together, they form a type of dry fog, which can give a yellowish filter to the ambient air.

In the short term, smog affects people already at risk, such as seniors and people with pre-existing heart or respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Smog is recognized as the cause of thousands of premature deaths every year. Over the long term, even very healthy people can develop problems such as chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

These health problems from smog exposure can largely be avoided by knowing how to protect yourself from smog. Here are nine tips to help you do just that.

Staying Informed

The first strategy is checking the air quality index. You can consult government information sites or your favourite weather platform.

To the naked eye, summer smog caused by cars and heat may look the same as smog caused by forest fires. But they don’t have the same effect on your lungs. Moreover, the difference between regular cloud cover and smog can be difficult to discern depending on weather conditions. To be sure of air quality and how to protect yourself, it’s best to consult a reliable information site.

Recognizing Symptoms

When in doubt, you should also recognize the symptoms caused by exposure to smog. If you have symptoms, you’ll know it’s time to put on a mask or go back indoors.

The most common symptoms are headache, irritated sinuses, runny eyes and nose, sore throat, and mild cough. Yes, these symptoms are similar to those of seasonal allergies. Remember that even if it’s just a simple allergy, staying indoors in a place with good air quality can also help!

 

Do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional in the case of more severe symptoms such as wheezing, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, a severe cough, or heart palpitations.

Close the Windows

This is one of the first rules of smoggy weather. Make sure you close all the windows in your home. The same goes for your car.

If you’re too hot, use a fan or air conditioner. Closing windows at night is crucial to avoid exposure while you sleep.

Getting a Good Air Conditioner With a Good Filter

During the height of summer, if you have to close the windows, you’ll want to have an air conditioner so you don’t get too hot.

But not all air conditioners are created equal! Make sure you have a high-quality filter. Ideally, during smoggy periods, your air conditioner should use indoor air rather than outdoor air to limit the entry of pollutants. This applies just as much to an air conditioner in your home as to your car’s air conditioning.

Use an Air Purifier

Consider using an air purifier or an air exchanger for the best possible indoor air quality. In addition to preventing you from breathing smog-related pollutants, air purifiers can reduce the number of allergens such as pollen and certain viruses and bacteria.

However, air purifiers must be fitted with a HEPA 13 or 14 filter to be truly effective. There are many devices called air purifiers that are not very effective.

Beware of Drafts

Draught-proofing is often mentioned as a way to save on home heating in winter or air conditioning in summer. It’s normal: if there’s a draft, it’s because the outside air enters the house.

And if the air gets in, so do the pollutants! That’s why we recommend tightly caulking windows and doors. In summer, you can roll a damp towel at the bottom of the doors to keep the air out.

Wear a Mask

When the smog index is high, it’s best to stay indoors. If you absolutely must go out or your work requires you to be outside, use a mask to reduce exposure.

The surgical masks that became the norm with the Covid-19 pandemic don’t work against micro-particles. Industrial-grade masks must be used, and they must fit snugly. This type of mask makes breathing more challenging, which can be problematic for people with pre-existing breathing issues. If this is your case, it’s best to stay indoors.

Taking Care of Your Respiratory Health

The short-term effects of smog will be much less distressing if you take care of your lungs. Unsurprisingly, the first step is to stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Cardio exercise, including brisk walking, will increase your lung capacity.

Of course, avoid exercising outdoors or any outdoor activities in smoggy conditions. Train indoors, or wait for days when the air quality is good.

Stay Well Hydrated

With the heat and smog, staying well-hydrated in summer is essential. You’ll feel you can breathe better, and it’ll cool your throat if it’s irritated by pollutants.

We may tend to drink less water in winter because we don’t sweat as much. And yet, with the cold, there’s also a certain amount of dehydration, not to mention the dehydration caused by the dry air from heating. In short, summer and winter alike, make sure you drink enough water to help relieve the effects of smog.

Finally, our lifestyle significantly impacts the presence of smog itself and our capacity for resilience. In the interests of prevention, it’s best to take certain precautions, such as avoiding outdoor fires or burning fallen leaves. Whenever possible, use public transport or active transportation to reduce the amount of pollutants produced by cars. Finally, remember to take care of yourself!

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