For the past week, Foothill and mountain residents have been impacted by smoke, mostly from the 63,776-acre Mosquito Fire. By now, waking up to the acrid smell in the early morning hours doesn’t prompt calls to 911. Unhealthy to hazardous air quality is a part of waking up. A few simple precautions can help to get you through until a forecasted change in weather pattern on Sunday.

Dr. Dawn Harris

ER visits on the rise – some tips to void the trip

Dr. Dawn Harris, the Emergency Department Medical Director at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley told us in an interview today, “We have seen a lot of respiratory visits throughout this entire fire. Taking precautions are important, because that can prevent having to see a health care professional.”

Precautions may seem obvious, but worth going over again. Because basically staying inside when we have those horrible air quality levels, being inside with doors and windows closed really makes a difference.

“If someone has an air purifier or something along those lines, running that indoors with the windows closed and the doors closed really can make a big difference,” Harris stated.

Use masks

Harris, who did some work in the area of the Camp Fire said she wouldn’t have survived without wearing masks and stressed the importance of using an N 95 mask. “I would have gotten sick immediately, and I don’t have any underlying health issues. It’s a good, important and very simple precaution. N 95s are made for filtering out particles much more than just our regular cloth masks or surgical masks. So yes, the N 95 is the best choice, but anything that is any kind of barrier is a good choice. Anyone who has done any kind of outdoor work in a smoky environment has experienced the difference that a mask can make.”

Inhalers – keep them with you at all times

People that have respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD, should never have their inhaler not by their side. They also should have their rescue inhaler available in times like this, in case an unexpected attack does hit them.

“Honestly, in the emergency department, one of the problems that we see are people that are out and about, then realize they don’t have their inhaler with them, or it is empty,” Harris shared. “But, everybody should be thinking about respiratory illness [especially in these poor air quality conditions.]

Getting care

We asked Dr. Harris how people could determine if they should seek medical care for smoke-related ailments – with the caveat that everyone is different and no, this is not medical advice for you specifically.

“If someone is feeling short of breath, they’re having a hard time breathing, they should definitely come in to the emergency department or see their doctor,” Harris recommends. “People may get other symptoms. A headache is really common with smoke related symptoms. What I would say to people is, if you’re coughing, if you have any kind of respiratory issue, shortness of breath, that really is what should drive you seeing a healthcare professional.”

Stay informed, check the air quality and forecasts

Harris encourages everyone to check the air quality if they plan on a trip, or attend outdoor events. Check

For the next few days, smoke will roll into the area overnight, with the worst air quality around 6:00 am, before clearing out again. The east side of the Sierra has the opposite cycle, their best time of day likely is early morning with conditions deteriorating throughout the day.

PS one last tip from Dr. Harris: “Hydration is always important. A hydrated person is a healthier person. It supports your immune system. It supports all of your body functions. So especially if you’re outside in the sun during the day, say the smoke clears and you actually do go outside and do something, staying hydrated will support the body.”