Lung health expert says masks used for COVID-19 not helpful for smoke

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Medical experts are now saying you don’t have to be in a high-risk group to experience health problems caused by high levels of wildfire smoke. 

The air quality got visually worse in the Sacramento region Thursday with layers of soot and ash showering down on many areas. 

It triggered an alert warning to those with breathing issues to stay inside. But even healthy subjects can be hit suddenly if they exert themselves. 

“It would the equivalent of sticking your head over a campfire and just breathing in all that material,” said Dr. Vanessa Walker, a lung specialist with Sutter Health. 

Children whose smaller lungs are unable to handle smoke particles are at high risk. While wildfires are putting a lot of smoke into the air, toxic particles are also present. 

“Right now, we have homes burning. It’s plastic material, it’s all kinds of stuff that is releasing formaldehyde into the air, increasing carbon monoxide levels,” Dr. Walker told FOX40. 

Some might think the face coverings being worn to protect from COVID-19 afford some protection. But it’s not the case says Dr. Walker. 

“The particles we’re worried right now from smoke inhalation are so small they will not filter through a regular mask, a regular cloth mask or even a surgical mask,” she said. 

“It’s all a bit confusing. So, we don’t even know, are these even the right masks?” said Irina Ivanov. 

Ivanov thought she was taking precautions with the masks being used for the pandemic. 

Adding to the confusion, Dr. Walker does not encourage people to buy N95 industrial masks that are effective against smoke. 

“These masks are in high demand. We’re having a hard enough time getting these masks to our health care providers on the front lines,” Dr. Walk explained. 

So, the type of masks people are wearing to protect themselves against COVID-19 don’t actually work against the smoke. And those that do work, medical professionals are saying don’t buy them. 

One solution is avoid exercising outside, stay indoors, use HEPA filter devices when you can and wait until the smoke levels go down. 

Medical experts say some people won’t be affected by the smoke at all while others may not feel side effects such as shortness breath and lung inflammation for several days later. 

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