Dry conditions, high heat, wind and smoke blown in from wildfires in British Columbia and the North Cascades converge on Seattle and the rest of Puget Sound Friday, lowering the region’s air quality and increasing the threat of fires.

Red Flag alert

The National Weather Service expects smoke-related air quality to worsen on Saturday and start clearin by Monday. The service has placed the region on “red flag” alert through Sunday – its highest fire danger warning. Outdoor burning is not recommended.

For a number of reasons, including the fact that they simply breathe at a faster rate than adults, children are at higher risk for illness or other negative health impacts when air quality is poor. According to a report this week in The New York Times, smoke can be particularly damaging to lungs, which can throw off immune systems and make people young and old more susceptible to colds, flu or other illnesses.

Here are tips to help your family avoid or lessen impacts of poor air quality or smoke exposure:

Monitor air quality

Check in frequently with AirNow or Puget Sound Clean Air, two air quality monitoring organizations. They use a color scheme to indicate air quality: Green for good, yellow for moderate, orange means air is unhealthy for sensitive groups like people with asthma or other health concerns, and red means the air is unhealthy for all populations. Monitors also provide a numeric quality rating system. Anything under 100 on the Air Quality Index is good. Anything over 150 is concerning.

Stock up on medicine 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions parents to store a 7 to 10-day supply of prescription medicines in a waterproof, childproof container and keep it on hand in case of a smoke low air quality condition.

Stock up on no-cook groceries 

According to the CDC, frying or grilling especially can make indoor air pollution worse.

Consider a trip away

In cases of extremely poor air quality or lingering poor air quality, consider going away with a child with asthma or another medical concern that pollutants might exacerbate. The CDC reminds parents: “Smoke can remain in both indoor and outdoor air days after wildfires have ended so continue to check local air quality.”

Bring out the masks

They aren’t as comfortable, but N95 masks are the best in terms of protecting kids and adults from smoke or pollution intake. Says the CDC: Remember that dust masks, surgical masks, bandanas and breathing through a wet cloth will not protect your child from smoke and that N95 respirator masks are not made to fit children and may not protect them.”

Don’t make it worse

Try not to add to poor air quality. Avoid using aerosols, frying or broiling, burning wood or candles, or smoking indoors.

Seal you home

To ensure that the outside’s poor air quality stays outside, be sure your home is buttoned down. Repair cracks in windows and consider plastic sealing around windows and tape around doors with poor sealing.

Use air purifiers and AC

KidsHealth.com makes the following recommendation: “On days when air quality is poor, run the air conditioning and limit your child’s time outside. Plan any outdoor activities for early in the day — when air quality tends to be better.”

High-efficiency particulate air (or HEPA) purifiers or central air systems equipped with high-efficiency “MERV 13” filters can cut smoke exposure by half or more, according to the New York Times. 

Don’t drive

Time spent in a car is time spent in pollution. If you must drive, avoid areas with high traffic. Healthychildren.org recommends that when driving keep windows closed. Turn the air-conditioning to re-circulate. Replace air filters according to your vehicle maintenance schedule.

While you are at it, avoid using other gasoline-powered equipment until the late evening or until the air quality improves. And don’t use paints, solvents, or varnishes that produce fumes during poor air quality times. 

Stay inside 

If you go outside, make it short. 

Curb exertion

Keep exercise to a minimum in times of poor air quality to reduce the pace of breathing.

Keep kids away from ash

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend keeping kids away from deposited ash, not involving them in cleaning pollutants, and washing hands thoroughly after coming inside.

Watch for asthmatic or other symptoms

If medicine helps control your child’s asthma, stockpile extra doses during fire season. And stay attuned to your kid’s reactions: watch for coughing and wheezing, and check whether they’re developing headaches or a dry mouth.

If a child has trouble breathing, becomes sleepy or refuses food or water, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends seeking cleaner air and medical attention. 

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