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By Lynne Rogers
FNP-C Seeley-Swan Medical Center, Partnership Health Center 

Air Quality - What Does it Mean?

Health Happens


August 17, 2017

Photo provided

Lynne Rogers, FNP-C Seeley-Swan Medical Center, Partnership Health Center

Many of us have been going to the community meetings about the fire and one of the things mentioned was to check the Air Quality Index (AQI). has air monitoring data that is updated hourly and Seeley Lake is one the locations across Montana being monitored. To find this website, type "air quality Seeley Lake" into your search engine and it's one of the first websites to come up.

Now that you know how to check for air quality – what does it mean? AQI is a measurement of the concentrations of the major pollutants in the air. The higher the number is, the more pollutants that are in the air. This in turn can cause more health related issues. The scale ranges from good to hazardous.

Green color is for good air quality and air quality poses no health risks.

Moderate air quality is indicated in yellow. The air quality is acceptable at this stage but can have moderate health risk concerns for individuals who are sensitive and they may experience respiratory symptoms.

Orange means unhealthy for sensitive groups. People with lung disease, older adults and children are considered sensitive and may experience health effects but the general public is usually not affected.

Red color indicates unhealthy air and at this stage the general public may start to have respiratory symptoms and sensitive groups may have increased symptoms.

Purple color indicates very unhealthy. At this stage, health alerts are issued. This means anyone may experience health concerns.

And lastly, where many of our days have been the last week, is hazardous indicated by a maroon color. This triggers warnings of emergency conditions where the entire population can be affected.

Besides checking the air quality, what can you do to decrease your risk of health issues from exposure to smoke? The recommendations are to keep indoors as much as possible, keep your doors and windows closed and run your air conditioner. It's also recommended to use a HEPA filter for the air conditioner intake or with room air cleaners.

You should keep a close eye on family members and friends who are at risk – those living alone, young children, elderly and individuals with chronic medical conditions – because they may be more sensitive to heat or smoke.

If you are driving in your car or truck, keep the windows closed and put the air system on re-circulate. It's advisable to avoid cigarette smoking and limit any strenuous activities especially outdoors but indoors also.

To decrease indoor pollutants, you should avoid using wood stoves, gas stoves and even candles.

Paper dust masks aren't a great protection against smoke and the smaller particles that cause respiratory issues. A special mask called "particulate respirator" such as an N95 mask gives better protection.

You should continue to monitor your health, take all of your prescribed medications and talk to your primary care provider if you have any concerns. Please seek medical care if you have a cough that is persistent or worsening, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness or significant weakness or fatigue. Please stay safe and healthy.

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