Check the quality of your exposure
A parent herself, Dr. Prunicki has recently been looking at the Air Quality Index, or A.Q.I., before she leaves the house. It’s a color-coded scale, with six steps from green (good) to purple (hazardous), that the federal government uses to communicate the overall severity of air pollution, including the levels of PM 2.5.
Generally, an A.Q.I. up to 100 should be an acceptable level for most people to play outside. Over 100, polluted air becomes unsafe for sensitive groups, including children. Over 150 means the air is unhealthy for everyone. At higher levels on the A.Q.I., say above 200, smoke is very unhealthy and even hazardous.
Experts recommend checking the official federal site, AirNow, which also offers push alerts. Depending where you live, you can also check PurpleAir, a global network of inexpensive, privately owned sensors. They are less accurate than federal instruments but more numerous. Additional apps like AirVisual and Breezometer combine federal data with other sources.
If eliminating smoke exposure is too hard, just reduce it
The best way to avoid the risk of air pollution is an obvious one: Get as far away from it as possible. But not everyone can afford to do that.
Realistically, medical experts say most parents should think about the risk of wildfire smoke in terms of reducing it rather than eliminating it entirely. And, with kids socially distanced from friends, parents have to weigh the threat of exposure to pollution against the benefit of socializing outside.
“Every child I care for has been suffering so much from the pandemic and the shelter-in-place and the school closures and the loss of social interaction,” said Noemi Spinazzi, a pediatrician who sees low-income patients with chronic respiratory problems at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Calif. “For most of my patients, spending time outdoors was, up until July, the saving grace.”
Clean indoor air quality first
To defend against a shapeless enemy, doctors say to start where you spend the most time with it: at home. Tightly sealing your windows by repairing cracks, checking joints or taping them up with plastic can reduce exposure to air pollution by as much as 30 percent.