Due to her asthma, Marianne Hubbard is making sure she wears a mask during the smoky conditions currently enveloping the Trail area. Guy Bertrand photo

Only certain masks protect against forest fire smoke

Masks must be rated ‘N95’ and labeled a particulate respirator to protect against wildfire smoke

All masks are not created equal.

For those choosing face protection against the ongoing smoky air, a surgical or paper mask commonly found on pharmacy shelves, will do nothing to help.

Masks must be rated ‘N95’ and should also be labeled a ‘particulate respirator.’

Additionally, the mask – or particulate respirator- must fit correctly as outlined in the products’ instructions then discarded after use.

Interior Health advises mask wearers to take regular breaks from use, so the body can recover from the increased breathing effort required. Re-use is not recommended and dirty masks must be regularly discarded.

Breathing smoky air can cause negative health effects because wildfire smoke contains tiny particulates that when inhaled into lungs, can cause irritation and symptoms like coughing or wheezing.

Smoke is especially problematic for those with breathing, heart, and circulation illnesses.

However, healthy people can also be affected, particularly pregnant women, children, the elderly and outdoor workers.

Also, the fire does not have to be close for a person to be affected – if the skies are smoky, there’s a risk.

The health authority advises the public to speak with their doctor prior (during) a smoke event if they want to wear a mask.

In most circumstances masks are not recommended for a number of reasons that include: may make it difficult to breathe normally; can be risky for elderly people and those with existing breathing or heart conditions; N95s cannot be properly worn by people with facial hair; and they stop working if saturated with water or sweat.

Interior Health maintains the best protection during smoky events is to seek cleaner air indoors and consider investing in a HEPA air filtration system, or leave the area entirely. As the latter two may not be practical for most, the health authority suggests it may help to simply stay indoors and reduce physical activity.