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Best KN95 vs. N95 Masks: Which Protects Better From Wildfire Smoke?

Experts weigh in on which mask is safest for you and your loved ones to stay safe against wildfire smoke.

U.S. Wildfires

Photos of the West Coat and its apocalyptic orange skies have gone viral as wildfires continue to burn in Oregon, Washington, and California. Public health officials have advised the public to stay indoors as air quality within the different regions has become hazardous, and inhaling them can lead to many health issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wildfire smoke is a mixture of fine particles and gases from burning vegetation, parts of buildings, and more, which, if you're exposed to a prolonged period - can inflame your lungs, thus thickening or scarring it. Wildfire smoked can also exacerbate chronic heart and lung infections and make you more susceptible to lung infections.

Other adverse effects wildfire smoke has on one's body include coughing, trouble breathing, stinging eyes, a scratchy throat, a runny nose, and irritated sinuses. You should also be wary of shortness in breath, chest pains, headaches, asthma attacks, tiredness, and a fast heartbeat. If you need to go out, it's best to wear a mask that protects against harmful air particles.

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Which Mask Protects Against Wildfire Smoke Best?

Best Masks For Wildfire Smoke

According to the CDC, when appropriately worn, N95 masks offer some protection and may be your best bet against wildfire smoke. These masks filter out 95% of airborne particles, including those found in wildfire smoke, which protects your lungs. However, because these may be hard to find as they are considered essentials for healthcare workers, you may opt for KN95 masks instead.

Raymond Casciari, M.D., a pulmonologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, and Jonathan Parsons, M.D., a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center agree that legit KN95 masks are as effective as N95 masks in protecting from smoke exposure.

On the other hand, cloth face masks offer little protection. Although they can filter ash and bigger particles, their effectivity to filter out smaller air particles in smoke is dubious.

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How To Reduce Smoke Exposure Outdoors

U.S. Wildfire Across Several Counties

If you are close to a wildfire, it is imperative to evacuate immediately as the fire itself, smoke, and ash can pose a severe risk to your health and safety. Meanwhile, if you're are farther from a wildfire, you aren't immune to the smoke's health effects either: burning eyes, runny nose, bronchitis, and even the exacerbation of chronic heart and lung diseases. If you are healthy, the significant risks aren't as bad - but it's still a good idea to protect you and your loved ones as best as possible.

The CDC recommends staying indoors as much as possible, but if you need to go outside, make sure that you wear a N95 mask or KN95 mask as dust masks or bandanas offer little to no protection. Make sure that you wear the mask correctly and as snug as possible so that it works properly. Avoid outdoor and strenuous activities such as jogging or mowing the lawn.

If you're in your car, close all your windows and vents. If you use the air conditioner, make sure that its in recirculate mode. Also, slow down when you drive through smokey areas. Smoke levels can vary throughout the day, so keep tabs on the air quality via the news, air quality forecasts, and more. Regardless of the smoke levels, make sure that you have an evacuation plan: know your routes, have a "go" bag, and know where to go in case you do need to leave.

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How To Reduce Smoke Exposure Indoors

Family staying indoors

Make sure that all your doors and windows are closed. If you have a central air conditioning system or a room unit, ask your provider what kind of high-efficiency filter your unit can accept. By using these, your unit is better able to capture fine particles from smoke.

With that being said, do not add to your indoor air pollution. Avoid any means of causing smoke indoors such as smoking, frying food, burning candles, and whatever way you can increase air pollution at home. You may also want to get a portable air cleaner for each room so that it helps in the reduction of indoor air particles.

You should also spend more time in the "cleanest room" at home - which is a room with no or few windows, doors, and no fireplace. Use the portable air cleaner in here. The air quality varies throughout the day, so if and when it improves, air out your home to reduce air pollution. You should also have a supply of N95 masks, food, and medication that can last for days to avoid going out.

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If you are somewhere that has thick smoke, make sure you buy a KN95 mask or N95 mask to protect you and your loved ones today.

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