“I had to get her tested for Covid because she’s been coughing so much,” she said Thursday, “but it turned out her lungs were just irritated from all the smoke.”
Across San Francisco Bay to the southeast, in Alameda, Monica Chellam’s daughter, also 4, asked Wednesday why it was so dark. “I told her the sun was blocked by smoke,” Ms. Chellam said.
“She turned to me and asked, ‘Is this how the dinosaurs died?’”
Children aren’t the only ones coughing. And they’re not the only ones with questions about the smoke that is spreading misery around the West. Here are some key facts and tips on what you can do.
The health effects of wildfire smoke are not fully understood, and the particles differ in some ways from other air pollution, which has been shown to cause disease. But wildfire smoke, which can include toxic substances from burned buildings, has been linked to serious health problems.
“When this is happening people’s health is suffering,” said Sarah Henderson, senior scientist in environmental health services at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control. “There is no doubt.”
Dr. Henderson said smoke exposure could have lifelong health implications for babies, though she said more research on the question was needed. “This may do damage to the developing lungs that they may never recover from,” she said.
Portable air purifiers are also recommended, though, like air-conditioners, they require electricity. If utilities cut off power, as has happened in California, those options are limited.
If you do have power, avoid frying food, which can increase indoor smoke.
Experts say it is especially important to avoid cigarettes. They also recommend avoiding strenuous outdoor activities such as exercising or mowing the lawn when the air is bad. When outside, well-fitted N95 masks are also recommended, though they are in short supply because of the pandemic.
Some do-it-yourself options are available, Dr. Henderson said, noting that masks made from different layers of fabrics, “particularly tightly woven cotton and silk together,” can provide “pretty good filtration” if they are fitted closely to the face.
Asked the best way to protect yourself in an area shrouded in smoke, Dr. Dominici said the question was a difficult one. Leaving the area until the smoke clears might be the safest option, but many people don’t have the ability to move or the luxury of choice about whether to work outside.
Ultimately, she said, there’s only so much individuals can do.