It is so important to breathe with your nose and not your mouth right now if you’re in California or anywhere downwind of these massive fires — whether you can see or smell smoke or not!
Increased nasal breathing repels airborne invaders. To reach the lungs, germs, pollutants and smoke have to evade two filters (cilia and mucus in the nose) plus a shower of sanitizing nitric oxide in the sinuses. Some things get through, but much does not. The mouth — whose job is to eat, not filter air — can’t compete!
The nose can filter particles down to 0.5 microns (a micron is an invisible one-millionth of a meter), and fire smoke particles are 0.4-0.7 microns, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. So the nose doesn’t filter everything, but it’s sure better than the mouth that doesn’t filter anything at all. (If you wear an N95 mask, it’s supposed to filter down to 0.1 to 0.3 microns, per manufacturers.)
Almost everyone can probably understand the connection between inhaling particles and experiencing allergies and asthma, but what about sudden strokes in otherwise healthy people? The World Health Organization attributes a quarter of heart attacks and strokes to pollution.
What happens with a pollution-related stroke is that a particle is inhaled into the lungs and then can enter the bloodstream and create a block or inflammaton in blood vessels. Public health officials know that heart attacks and strokes increase during fires but it’s unclear if they’d ever be able to say that a particular case was due to pollution.
You know that saying, “The best things in life are free?” Add breathing well to the list. It’s an invisible and intangible, but extremely valuable, skillset and asset.