Summer is finally here and the Missoula City-County Health Department is already warning folks about wildfire smoke. Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield says wildfire smoke can be very dangerous, but there are ways to get the smoke out of our breathing space.

“One of the things I encourage folks to do, if they are able, is to get a portable air cleaner with a true HEPA filter in it to create a clean room in your home,” Coefield said. “Typically, we say put it where you are going to spend the most time and a lot of times that is going to be your bedroom. Put it in there, close the doors and windows so it can recirculate the air through its filter multiple times in an hour. It can do a really excellent job cleaning up the air in that room.”

Wildfire smoke is composed of a combination of chemicals and fine particulate matter.  According to Coefield, the wildfire smoke health research field has focused specifically on the particulate matter in smoke.

“Those are so super tiny that when you breath them in, they can go really deep into your respiratory system and actually pass into your blood stream,” Coefield said. “Once they are there, they can set off an inflammatory response. They can be really harmful. People with heart disease can have in increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. During a bad smoke event, communities do see an increase in mortalities because these are very serious health conditions.”

Your body goes on the offensive when you’re in wildfire smoke for a long period of time. The strategy works pretty well when the invader is a virus, but it’s less effective against particulate matter. Unfortunately, despite your body’s efforts, Coefield says the most effective way to really get better is to get out of the smoke.