How To Love Your Lungs: Practical Support for Bad Air QualityIf you’ve worked with me at all you probably know that I’m not one to make hard rules about self care.
I’m always encouraging you to follow your common sense and listen for what resonates with you. Look for things you will actually do, and what sounds fun. YES, being healthy can be fun and easy! However, I'm going to get serious about your respiratory health in this newsletter.
I love your lungs and I want you to love on them too!
Fire season started early this year and there is a novel respiratory virus around, so there truly has never been a more important time to support the health of your respiratory system.
The recent fires will not be done smoldering for a while. And while the skies were drizzling and the air was clear on Wednesday, the weather folks predict the smokey air is coming back to Sonoma County this weekend and going to stick around for a while. It’s not too late to get a plan to navigate poor air quality.
Part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is based on our past 3 summers of long stretches of smoke from fires. I’ve seen first hand that people who are good about protecting themselves from bad air quality have more resilience to colds, flus, and viruses.
I haven't run a clinical trial, but as someone who focuses on supporting immune systems, I've seen lots of case studies. It’s clear to me that when cold and flu season comes around, those that struggle with bad coughs or lingering upper respiratory symptoms often tell me they weren't so good at protecting themselves from the smoke.
So please take a look at all the ideas I have below about how to take care of your respiratory system when we have smokey air and pick some of them to implement.
Like always, it’s your body and you get to decided when the risks outweigh the benefits of avoiding smoke – yes, sometimes taking that walk and talk with your friend, or getting out in your garden is worth it.
Monitor Air Quality: You can’t always tell by just looking out your window how the air quality is. If you have a long view, like I do from my front porch, and things look hazy, that’s not good air. But most of the time I take a look at the app from IQ Air called AirVisual. You can go to their website and download their free app onto your phone. It has data from lots of local sensors and shows you the recent history so you can get a good feel for how things are locally for you. The air quality can vary drastically from where I live near the Fairgrounds to where Thrive is up by Fountaingrove. With that info you can make the decisions that are right for you about opening windows, going outside, etc. When looking at air quality sites you want to make sure they collect data from multiple locations. The last I read, the national weather service bases their air quality info from one sensor in Sebastopol and extrapolates with air flow mapping.
Stay Inside When Possible: Make conscious choices about when to spend time outside. We’ve had about 2 weeks of "spare the air days" in a row. We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. If you consider the long term exposure to particulates and toxins in the air, your decisions will probably be more cautious.
- If the air quality is less than ideal, stay inside as much as possible with the windows closed and an air purifier on. Where I live, the morning tends to have better air quality so I’ve been getting out first thing to tend the garden.
- If you don’t have central A/C, like so many houses in Sonoma County, it may finally be time to buy a portable A/C unit. We did a couple summers ago and it was a life saver over the past couple of weeks—we could keep the windows closed but still have at least one place in the house that was a comfortable temperature during a heat wave.
- Find a way to exercise indoors. I love exercising outdoors—that’s one of my main motivators for exercise—but it’s empowering to have the option to exercise indoors. That way I don’t feel like I have to compromise by either choosing exercise in unhealthy air or not exercising at all. I’ve been doing online Pilates and my husband brought our bike trainer into the living room from the backyard.
Masks: I know we all have mask fatigue, but if your air quality is moderate and you’re going to be outside, it’s a good idea to put on a respirator mask that filters the particles. There’s also a lot of confusion about if it’s ok to wear a respirator mask or if we can buy them since we want to make sure health professionals have access to them.
- We had a small supply of 3 lightly used N95 masks in the back of our cupboard so take a look around at home–now is the time to pull them out.
- If you don’t have any N95s or you want to get some more, you can buy KN95 masks without any special health provider qualifications. I know they have them at amazon and Friedman's. KN95 masks are very similar to N95s. The main difference is that the straps go around your ears so the seal is not as tight, but they do have a wire you can shape around the nose to get a good seal.
- Want to make your masks last longer? I use a washable cloth mask on top of my KN95 masks at work to keep the outside of the mask clean so I can reuse the masks a few times. The cloth mask on top also helps keep the KN95 in place for me. I tie the cloth mask behind my head so I don't have too many things behind my ears. If the cloth mask has ear straps, I string a ribbon through and tie that behind my head. I put each lightly used KN95 mask in a paper bag to air out for at least 72 hours between uses.
Air Purifier: If you’ve lived in Sonoma County over the past 3 summers you probably already own at least one air purifier for your home. Is it time to replace the filters? A few patients in the market for another have asked me what I recommend since we got more for the office recently–there’s one in each treatment room to help clean the air of viruses and now also smoke. I chose the Winnix 5300-2 because it moves a lot of air and has good carbon and HEPA filtration. One of the main things you want in an air purifier is to move a lot of air through it. The more air it moves the more it purifies. We got ours off amazon, but you can shop around for them.
Detox: In addition to particulates, the smokey air contains gasses and toxins that get in your bloodstream. The first stop for blood purification is the liver, so I focus my detox efforts on the liver.
- I've been drinking Traditional Medicinals EveryDay Detox tea. They have a few different flavors and you can buy them at Oliver's and Whole Foods.
- Other easy liver detox support includes:
If you have specific concerns or sensitivities to detoxing I can prescribe custom herbal formulas to support your individual needs.
Conscious breathing: Take a few minutes every so often to take some calming, deep breaths. Give thanks to your lungs for all the work they do. In Chinese medicine, the lungs hold onto grief and sadness, so think of what you want to release as you exhale and then inhale peace and serenity. Essential oils, such as eucalyptus, rosemary, geranium, cinnamon, and peppermint, support respiratory health and perk up your spirit. We have some inhalers with blends of essential oils that can easily fit in your pocket or purse and allow you to quickly give your lungs some love.
It's starting to feel like we're out of the woods with the recent fires which is a relief! Take some time now to make a plan for supporting your respiratory system through any future bad air quality. It's not too late – it's actually the perfect time.
What We’re Treating In The Clinic–Stress, Respiratory Systems, and DetoxThe past couple of weeks have not been easy for a lot of people with the local fires. Nervous systems and respiratory systems are taxed. So many people were coming in asking me if I think they are having allergies with irritated sinuses, eyes, throats, lungs, and headaches. Nope, it was poor air quality. The air may not have seemed that bad a lot of the time, and to be honest we're all tired of feeling limited and confined inside. But that meant more people were going outside without any respirator mask even though we've had over 2 weeks with almost daily "spare the air" warnings for the greater Bay Area.
I’ve been thrilled to be able to work and help people since my home was very safe AND my office was open–over the past 3 years my office was often evacuated or without power during the fires.
So many people told me that making an appointment for acupuncture was the best decision they made all week. They also said they felt more relaxed, their breathing felt better, and their headaches were gone when they got up from the table, so they knew it was helping them.
Like I said before, there truly has never been a more important time to support the health of your respiratory AND nervous systems. Acupuncture, cupping, and custom herbal formulas offer so much support.
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Here's to a renewed interest in health and being open to new options for health care–two of our favorite things!
Sending you, our community, the animals, the plants, and the whole world so much love!
Christina Ness-Hawks, LAc