Which masks work best against wildfire smoke?

The best kind of mask to get to protect from small particulate matter -- the most dangerous -- from wildfire smoke is one like this, which has a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health rating of N95 or P95. (KBOI photo)

People who have respiratory problems when it gets real smoky like it is in the Treasure Valley now often wear a respirator mask with a good rating, N95, for protection from particulate matter.

But not all masks are alike.

The thing about smoke from wildfires is this: it can suddenly get dangerously dirty for humans.

Colby Adams is environmental health director for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

"It's the very small particles that are in the smoke that are causing the most concern," he said. "Those can actually reach your lungs, and when they're in your lungs, if you have asthma that can exacerbate your asthma, if you have heart disease, that can exacerbate your heart disease."

If you try to mask out the smoke, remember not all masks work.

"If you're going to outside and want to use a mask, avoid dust masks or surgical masks," said Adams. "The only masks that would protect you from particulate matter are those with a NIOSH rating, that's the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, of N95 or P95. That doesn't mean you're protected because you have to ensure you're wearing the mask correctly, if you have facial hair, not going to be effective in keeping the particles out."

Plus, these masks are not certified for use by children.

And sure we live in the West, but forget the bandana for smoke protection.

"The bandana or wet bandana are not able to stop the small particles," Adams explained. "They might get some of the larger ones, but the health concern is really with the small ones."

And the thing about a respirator mask is it can only be used once. Once you're finished, if you've been wearing it all day, the best thing is replace it with another one.

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