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Wildfires and Your Health

Haze over Edmonton Alberta

It is with heavy hearts and anticipation that we read updates about the wild fires in BC, now declared a state of emergency. The wildfires continue to burn out of control in both BC and Alberta, creating the unsettling haze that is causing symptoms in many and raising questions on how to protect our health. The smoke has affected everyone, but those most at risk are young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic lung or heart diseases.

The most obvious symptoms you might be experiencing relates to the lungs, such as, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, cough, phlegm, or a mild heaviness in your chest. This will be especially pronounced in those with asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Others with allergies may be experiencing classic allergy-type symptoms in addition to the respiratory symptoms listed above, such as a runny nose, tearing, sneezing, itchy nose and eyes. What you might not expect is for many, the smoke can give symptoms that might make you feel as if you are coming down with a cold or flu. You might experience a sore throat, hoarseness of voice, fatigue, sore/burning eyes or headaches.

Avoidance is key to minimizing your risk! Below are some tips to help minimize your exposure:

  • Minimize your time outdoors. Being aware of the air quality in your area before heading outdoors is important. You can find air quality advisory information on the Environment Canada website: ( If you are outdoors and become short of breath, move inside. If you have been outside for some time, change your clothing when you come inside.

  • Maximize your indoor air quality. Keep windows and doors closed as much as possible and avoid use of anything that could decrease your indoor air quality such as candles, air fresheners, incense, wood or gas stoves and cigarettes. Broiling or frying foods at high temperatures can also affect indoor air quality and should be avoided. If you have an indoor air filtration unit, ensure that it is running and working properly. If your air filtration unit is portable place in the living room or kitchen where you spend the most time in the day and move it to the bed room at night. If you don’t have an air filtration unit, but have an air conditioner, you could consider running it with the fresh air intake closed so that the unit will filter the air from your home. In your vehicle it is advised that you keep the windows rolled up and the air turned to re-circulate.

  • Limit strenuous activity. It is advisable to avoid strenuous activity even indoors if you have been exposed to the smoke.

  • Keep up the basics. Anything to help promote detoxification will be helpful, it is especially important to ensure you are drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fiber to help facilitate your body’s natural detox pathways. Eat plenty of bright colorful fruits and vegetables. These foods are high in antioxidants which are important for the body’s ability to deal with the oxidative effects of the smoke. Get adequate rest to allow your body to work through the exposure. Avoid smoking cigarettes and recreational drugs.

Unfortunately, regular masks or cloth such as a bandana over your face will not protect you from the wildfire smoke. These devices filter large particles but not smoke. If you are finding yourself more affected by the smoke you may want to consider a respirator. Read more about respirators for wildfire exposures here.

If you are experiencing symptoms or want to mitigate the effects of wildfire smoke exposure see your Naturopathic Doctor. There are a number of different nutraceuticals and herbs that can be helpful such as NAC, Quercitin, Althea, Grindelia, Plantago, Lobelia or Avena to name a few. Your ND can help you find the right combination for your specific needs. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at Naturally Inclined Health or visit us online

Dr. Amber McKinnon

Dr. Amber McKinnon ND is the founder and owner of Naturally Inclined Health in Edmonton. She is also a co-founder and board member for the Alberta Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

Dr. McKinnon enjoys a busy practice working with patients to find their optimum health.

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