Tag Archives for " masks "

How to Balance Wildfire Smoke and Work

How to Balance Wildfire Smoke and Work

Wildfire smoke from Canada in 2023 has made the northern and eastern states in the US look like a Martian landscape at times.   If your job requires you to commute to the office, whether it’s one day a week or everyday, what should you consider before taking off for work?

First things first:  how is your employer reacting to this problem?  Employers and employees have been pivoting ever since COVID-19: office, home, office, schedules, communication, and air quality.  It’s a juggling act, and this new challenge (ok, maybe new for these areas, not so much for west coasters) is another fire drill.  Hopefully, everyone can continue to work together to get through it, safely.  Does your employer recognize that air quality from smoke is a safety concern just as much as viruses?   According to Thomas Brugato, counsel in the Washington office of Covington & Burling who focuses on environmental matters, as well as civil and administrative litigation, companies need to be asking whether the systems they have in place are “adequate to ensure protection and safe air during very bad air quality events”.  (How wildfire smoke should change the way companies think about return to office)  Generally speaking, companies have a duty to provide a safe work environment under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules. 

How this applies to your commute

Technically, under the “coming and going rule,” employees are typically deemed not engaged in work while commuting, so generally, employers are not liable for wrongs committed during that time.  (Are you responsible for an employees’ commute?)  However, if you are in a job that has already redefined “office” because of air quality, to commute or not commute is now also an air quality decision, and hopefully an informed one!  If your employer is not familiar with the air quality reports at AirNow.gov, you’ll need to find a tactful way to introduce them in order to know what everyone will be facing on their commute. 

Even if you’re in a vehicle with the “recirculation” mode on, the outside atmosphere WILL come inside.  We’ve addressed vehicle air quality in this article, and changing your cabin air filter on a regular basis, especially with one that includes activated carbon, can drastically improve air quality in your car.  (Cabin air filters should be changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.)  Wearing a mask inside your car can also help with mild smoke conditions; it will not filter noxious gasses, but will help with particulates.  If you’re using a company car, try to find out when the cabin air filter was changed, and push for doing so if it’s overdue.  You can also ask for your employer to reimburse mask expenses for commuting. 

Research your route!  It may take a bit longer to drive through cleaner air, but it’s certainly worth it for your health.  Free apps like AirNow, BreezeOMeter and google maps (they have a new air quality “layer”) can show where the air quality is acceptable. 

Do you normally walk or bike to work?  In a 2017 review of 39 studies, scientists discovered a few conundrums that are worth considering: 

  • although biking and walking exposes you to less pollutants, the uptake of pollution is higher because you are breathing more frequently and deeply by reason of exercise

  • the years of life expectancy (YLE) gained by walking or biking compared with motorized transport are positive, meaning that cyclists and pedestrians actually gained years in life expectancy despite inhaling more particulates, due to the positive health effects of physical activity.  Cyclists gained more YLE than pedestrians because the average commute for pedestrians took longer.  

However, this study did not take wildfire smoke into account.  Because particulates from smoke are an additional burden, walking or biking on these days is not recommended!  Any other mode of transportation (car, train, bus, subway, etc.) would be advised over walking or biking on low air-quality days due to wildfire smoke.  If you don’t have a car or are close to public transportation, ask your employer or coworkers for help commuting during low air-quality days.

How this applies to your workplace

Although office workspaces usually have a HVAC system with a filter, sometimes they can be overwhelmed by bad air quality outside, especially if people are constantly entering and leaving, or service windows are being opened and closed.  It’s helpful to bring a portable air quality monitor with you and keep it at your workspace, to determine if air inside the building is healthy.  If particulates are high and changing the HVAC filter does not help, here are some ways to improve it:

  • recommend trying a higher MERV filter (MERV 13 should help)

  • recommend getting a standalone HEPA filter, if possible with activated carbon

  • recommend increasing cleaning during this time, as particulates settle into dust which can be disturbed and inhaled

  • If office-wide improvements are not welcomed, add a small air cleaner with HEPA and activated carbon to your space. 

  • Lastly, using a mask during the workday or part of the day is not pleasant but it is better than breathing polluted air!

If you work and are locked into being at a specific workplace, discussing air quality with your employer and coworkers can bring this problem to the forefront, and may also generate some creative solutions!

Photo by Ivan Bogdanov on Unsplash

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Another virus has dominated the headlines this fall and winter 2022, an old nemesis that changes disguises (varieties) every year to trip us up–Influenza.  Of course, you could always take a gamble that the Flu vaccines offered in clinics will match the real cocktail of virus in the air, but there are a lot of other ways to reduce your chances of contracting this illness that don’t involve needles.  Let’s get started!

Yes, masks, social distancing and hand-washing are still part of the solution.  Some health advisory authorities, like the California Department of Public Health, are basing mask recommendations against flu on COVID-19 illness risk in your area, because flu and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) spread in similar ways to COVID-19.  The CDC has a searchable risk database by county here,  Infants and young children, as well as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, are most at risk for RSV, which can cause bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia. (CDC.gov)  For more on masks, check out our article here.

Avoid air pollution.  It doesn’t seem like crisp winter air should come with air pollution flags, but unfortunately winter sometimes hosts the worst conditions of the year.  There are several different types of a phenomenon called “inversions” (which are well-explained in this video from the University of Illinois Extension), but they all involve a warmer layer of air above a cooler layer of air, restricting air movement and causing pollutants to be trapped near the earth’s surface.  That bad air quality will likely contain elevated levels of fine particulates like PM2.5 and PM10, carbon monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which were all shown to increase the risk of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Jinan, China (The short-term effects of air pollutants on influenza-like illness in Jinan, China, 2019).  If your area is known to have moderate to bad air quality days, keep an eye on it and adjust your plans accordingly!  Airnow.gov, breezometer.com and local news stations can all help you stay informed and healthier.

These tips can help you stay healthy against a plethora of diseases (dispatchhealth.com):

  • Stay active: get out and rake leaves, or take a brisk walk around the neighborhood or around your local mall if the weather is inclement.  Routine exercise is a simple and smart way to bolster your immune system and improve your overall health.

  • Rest well; try to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, because sleep is critical to a well-functioning immune system.  If you have difficulty getting to sleep, reduce your caffeine intake after noon, don’t use digital devices in bed, and try a melatonin supplement.

  • Take your vitamins–in your food!  Foods that are rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc and selenium naturally boost your immune system, while foods that have lots of added sugar, salt, and fried and highly processed foods may do the opposite (avoid them).  (Healthline.com)

  • Consider herbal supplements (7 Natural Remedies for Preventing the Flu):

    • Echinacea.  As shown in a 2015 study in the Czech Republic, Echinaforce Hotdrink is as effective as oseltamivir (Tamiflu Oral) in early treatment of confirmed influenza virus infections.  If this particular drink is not readily available, you can take tablets containing 6.78 milligrams of echinacea extract two to three times a day, having 900 milligrams of Echinacea root tincture daily or five to six cups of echinacea tea on the first day of symptoms, and then 1 cup a day thereafter. 

    • Oregano oil has powerful antiviral effects, too: you can take 500mg twice daily to help reduce the effects of a cold, as well as fight it off.

    • Essential oils used in a diffuser can help with congestion and headaches, as well as preventing airborne viruses from being able to infect you.   Clove,  peppermint and eucalyptus are some of the most popular.  According to a 2021 review, essential oils from Eucalyptus are recognized for their broad spectrum of action, such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-immunomodulatory (against diseases that suppress the immune system), antioxidant, and wound healing properties.  One study that was reviewed showed that when the pure eucalyptus essential oil was actively diffused with a nebulizer for 15 seconds (oil concentration: 125 μg/L of air in the chamber), Influenza Virus-A was completely inactivated in the air.

And of course–keep your bipolar ionizers running!   The Germ Defender, Air Angel and Whole Home Polar Ionizer produce positive and negative ions that can disable viruses and bacteria on surfaces and in the air from across the room.  We have posted links to some of the scientific studies on this technology here.   We’re hoping that this winter you can use these natural tips to make more good memories with family and friends, and less memories of illness, missed work and school from the flu!

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

How to have clear sinuses

How to have clear sinuses

Going through yet another round of stuffy nose and headaches, I decided to research all the ways that I or my environment is sabotaging my sinuses.  

First of all, it could be sinusitis (also called rhinosinusitis): an inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, the cavities within the bones that surround the nose (Harvard Health).  Inflammation blocks the ostia, which are the narrow channels that drain into the nasal cavity, so that drainage becomes blocked.  Sinusitis can be caused by a cold, allergies, or a deformity such as deviated septum or nasal polyps.  Here are the different lengths of sinusitis (healthline.com)

  • Acute sinusitis can be caused by a cold, but then a secondary infection can happen once the sinuses get inflamed and blocked.  Technically acute sinusitis lasts less than 4 weeks.

  • Subacute sinusitis lasts from 4-12 weeks.

  • Recurrent acute sinusitis occurs when you have the same symptoms 4 or more times per year, but it lasts over 7 days each time.

  • Chronic sinusitis symptoms last over 12 weeks.

Well what is causing it?  

Normal sinuses are lined with a thin layer of mucus that traps dust, germs and other particles in the air. Tiny hair-like projections in the sinuses sweep the mucus (and whatever is trapped in it) towards openings that lead to the back of the throat. From there, it slides down to the stomach. This continual process is a normal body function.(American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology) Here are some of the common irritants that can interrupt this process:

  • Dust:  A dose of good old dust, whether it’s from a woodshop, mowing the grass on a very dry day, or bringing out boxes from an attic, can overload the sinuses. The problem is that dust is a very complex mixture of irritants.  It can contain dustmites and their feces, chemicals, 

  • Pollen:  Plants have to reproduce, and sadly the weeds seem to be the worst offenders to our noses.  In addition, you’re not just imagining it: pollen really is becoming worse every year!  Check out our post on allergies here

  • Mold:  Mold is dangerous in that unlike other allergens, it can colonize and actually grow inside your sinuses, since they are warm, moist and dark.  Then, the rest of your body is susceptible to other colonizations as you breathe the mold spores and swallow them with mucous.   

  • VOCs:  VOCs can cause inflammation that leads to sinusitis.  A 2001 study showed that patients with chronic rhinosinusitis were exposed to higher levels of volatile organic compounds than healthy subjects.

We at HypoAir are not medical professionals, so we can’t recommend the techniques and drugs that doctors use for prevention and relief of sinusitis.  However, natural techniques are generally milder, and many of our clients are very sensitive to medications anyway, so we are glad to report that sinusitis can often be prevented or treated easily!  Here are some of the ways to do it:

  • I have to say that mask-wearing definitely cut down on my nasal issues when I was required/bothered to wear one.  Why?   Masks filter out many of the airborne contaminants listed above that can trigger sinusitis, as well as germs like bacteria and viruses.  Two+ years into the coronavirus pandemic, the stigma of wearing a mask is virtually nil, and there are a plethora of masks you can use to protect yourself against pollutants and germs alike (see our post on masks). 

  • Nasal irrigation is the number one defense against sinusitis according to Harvard Health (steps included in the article).  Whether you choose to use a bulb, small pitcher or neti pot, the homemade rinse works great to flush away the irritants that can block drainage and start a nasty infection.   It’s recommended to do this daily if you can!

  • Hydrate–your body as well as your nose!  Drink plenty of water during the day, and use a plain nasal saline spray several times a day if you are in a dry environment.  Adding a drop of food-grade tea tree oil or oregano oil (oregano oil is a bit harsher) to the saline spray adds a layer of antimicrobial protection to your spray. 

  • Avoid being unprotected in moldy and dusty places.  If you have to go down into a moldy basement or into a dusty attic, make sure to wear an N95 or respirator mask that seals well, and don’t take it off until you are safely in a clean place. 

  • Keep pollen, dust and pollution out while letting fresh air into your home, by installing some Window Ventilation Filters in your open windows.  They are easy to install and can be vacuumed a number of times before replacement.

  • Neutralize pollutants by adding a bipolar device by HypoAir to your home.  Positive and negative ions neutralize mold and germs by damaging their outer layers, and they cause small nanoparticles to stick together and drop out of the air in order to avoid breathing them in.

  • Be very vigilant about humidity levels in your home, so that mold does not gain a foothold.  You can monitor humidity easily using our inexpensive Humidity Sensors to maintain humidity between 40-60%.  If you see any water intrusion into your home, make sure to deal with it promptly to prevent mold growth! 

  • Use a MERV 13 filter (if possible) in your furnace/HVAC and change it regularly!

  • Use a standalone HEPA filter in areas where you spend a lot of time (living room, bedroom)

  • Clean as often as you can using a non-toxic, unscented cleaner: TotalClean fits the bill perfectly!  Safe to use around food, people and pets, TotalClean is the solution to replace all of the VOC-producing cleaners that can irritate and inflame sinus pathways. 

Think about the agony of sinusitis or a sinus infection and the time you lose while you battle it:  isn’t an ounce of prevention totally worth a pound of cure?  We think so!

How to protect your child’s air quality

How to protect your child’s air quality

When school shootings, abuse or other violence take up the bulk of the news, it’s easy to miss that the very air your family breathes has a great impact on childrens’ health (even more than ours).  Why? (from lung.org)

  1. Air pollution can affect them even before they’re born, with increased chance of pre- term birth (California study published in 2016)
  2. Eighty percent of a child's lungs will develop after birth, and continue development until the child becomes an adult.  Air pollution increases the risk that their lungs will not reach full maturity. 
  3. They take 2-3 times as many breaths as adults.
  4. According to a 2021 meta-analysis from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) has been linked with significantly increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children, particularly if exposure occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy or during early childhood,
  5. They spend a lot of time in schools that may have inadequate ventilation and high contaminants.
  6. They don’t behave like adults–they spend a lot more time outdoors with increased activity.

Protecting your child’s lungs and body from polluted air is not always easy.  Masks can help, but they’re just one part of your arsenal.  

Masks need to have good filtration, fit and comfort.  AirPOP is a company that was founded when the children of one of the founders suffered from acute respiratory reactions to the local air pollution in China.

When choosing a device for your child, make sure to choose one that has undergone some lab testing against fine particles or is officially certified as KN95, N95, KF94, FFP2, or another regional standard. For air pollution, cloth masks and surgical masks provide minimal protection. (airpophealth.com)  Here is one of the highly rated KN95 kids’ masks from their collection.

In moderate to severe air quality environments, it also comes down to monitoring your children’s whereabouts and activities.  Teaching them about air quality conditions and forecasts lets them know why they are wearing a mask or doing activities indoors, and every parent knows that the “Why?” is very important!

Whether it’s walking, riding a bus or driving them in your personal car, getting your children to school can expose them to a lot of pollution.  Finding less polluted routes or using a mask or HEPA filter in the car makes sense.  

At school, teachers need to know the outdoor air forecast in order to plan outdoor time or alternative indoor activities.  Also at school, you can inquire about whether they have an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) monitoring plan. If not, the EPA has suggestions on how to develop and implement one.

At the end of the school day, idling busses and cars (in the car pickup line) can be a problem as the vehicles queue up and wait for their passengers and the scheduled time of departure. According to the EPA, it’s a myth that busses need to remain idling to keep the cabin (inside the bus) at a comfortable temperature.  There are technologies available to avoid idling and strategies to help parents and schools implement anti-idling policies. 

Children love to learn. Learning eventually gives them power over their environment through the ability to make wise choices.  They are also naturally fond of the earth, our natural environment, and their ability to do physical activity (read: play!), so that educating them on air quality can be done on age-appropriate levels with fun activities.  Here are some sites to help:

Getting your child “on-board” with protecting their air quality will come in time, but until then, there are daily decisions that parents need to make that will impact their life and health for years to come.  Don’t worry, HypoAir is here to help!  Consider adding an Air Angel and HEPA filter to their bedroom to cut down on fine particulates, germs and allergens.  For a whole home solution, our Whole Home Polar Ionizer and HVAC home filters protect through your HVAC system.   These are low-maintenance ways to take the burden of air quality off your shoulders at home!

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash