I first wrote this Facebook note in 2007 when Florida and the southeastern states were plunged into wildfires. I re-posted it in 2011 when they were raging again—this time in Arizona, New Mexico, California … and Florida. And again in 2018 when they raged across California. We thought these were bad.
Right now it is September of 2020 and the West Coast states are burning up. I feel desperate for all my West Coast friends and family, colleagues and patients. There are many more fires than previous years and unimaginable destruction. On top of Covid-19 these catastrophes feel particularly wicked.
I am writing this note (mostly unedited from the original written in 2007) in the hope that there will be some helpful information—including homeopathic remedies. The nice thing about Facebook is that you can add your suggestions and comments of your own.
You heard about it on the news, or maybe you lived through it. In late spring, wildfires raged throughout drought-stricken areas of north Florida and southeast Georgia, burning thousands upon thousands of acres of natural landscapes, woodlands, and the Okefenokee swamp, and threatening or destroying some residential communities. Roads and highways were shut down and many people were forced to evacuate.
Strong winds carried the smoke hundreds of miles away, thereby affecting millions more people. By mid-May, the air had improved greatly in my area of north Florida after some much-needed rain. But visibility was still low in parts of Georgia, and a thick cloud of smoke traveled 250 miles to blanket Atlanta. The smell of burning wood hung in the air, people were complaining of watery, burning eyes, and some were having difficulty breathing.
It’s natural, but … on average, wildfires burn about 4 million acres in the US annually. For many years, US government policy was to suppress all wildfires, but today it is accepted that wildfires are a part of the natural ecosystem. Controlled fires are often set to reduce undergrowth and make forest regeneration possible. Fire is essential to the survival of the Giant Sequoia in the forests of California.
2018 update: Over the past 10 years, 6.6 million acres burned annually on average. In 2017, 71,500 wildfires burned 10.0 million acres nationwide, the second-largest figure on record in terms of acreage burned.
Sometimes, however, wildfires get too close to residential communities, destroying homes and livelihoods, and even lives. I met a firefighter recently who said that if he could impress one thing on homeowners vulnerable to a wildfire because of their proximity to forests, for example, it would be to clear the trees and shrubs from around their houses.
As of this writing in late summer of 2007, the Midwest is experiencing wet conditions but Western states are battling a tremendous number of fires. A wildfire in Idaho has burned 70 square miles, caused 2000 homes to be evacuated, and is threatening the Sun Valley ski resort. You may have also heard news reports about the terrible fires raging in Greece where many lives have been lost. Any place with high heat and drought conditions is susceptible, with metropolitan areas feeling the effects of wildfires from smoke that can travel hundreds of miles from its source.
Common smoke-related symptoms
Smoke particles are irritating and can cause runny eyes and noses, sore or scratchy throats and eyes, inflamed sinuses, headaches, coughs, and difficulty breathing. Some people are more sensitive than others, especially the very young, the very old, and those with allergies or any kind of respiratory condition like asthma or emphysema or COPD.
Steps you can take
If you can stay in your home here are some steps you can take if you can smell smoke in your neighborhood and you are sensitive to it:
Limit your outdoor activities to those that are truly urgent.
Remain in your home and keep the doors and windows closed.
Run the air conditioner with re-circulated air from time to time, even if you don’t need to. Close the fresh air intake and make sure the filter is clean and changed more frequently than usual.
If you have to drive, keep your car windows closed, and run the air conditioning with the vent to the outside closed.
Irrigate your sinuses frequently with saline solution using a syringe, bulb syringe or netipot (found at drug or natural food stores). Nasal irrigation involves flooding the nasal cavity with a warm saline solution in order to clear out excess mucus and particulates (i.e., dust, smoke, or pollen particles), and moisturize the nasal cavity. Clinical trials have found it both safe and beneficial. The Mayo Clinic website (http://www.mayoclinic.com) has a couple of helpful instructional videos relating to the use of the bulb syringe. (Search for “nasal irrigation.”) For information and videos about using the netipot go to www.netipot.org and follow the links from the home page. The video ends with some yoga exercises!
Use an eyewash to rinse irritated eyes. You may be able to find an herbal eyewash at your local whole food store or you can make your own. Calendula (marigold), Hydrastis (goldenseal), Chamomile, and Euphrasia (eyebright) are all wonderfully soothing herbs for irritated eyes. Make an infusion by adding a handful of one or more of these herbs, fresh or dried, to a pint of freshly boiled distilled water. Cover and let it steep until cool, then strain it carefully until the infusion is quite clear.
If you do spend time outdoors and are affected, change your clothes as soon as you get inside and take a quick shower or wash exposed parts (especially head, hair, face, and hands) with running water.
Do not add indoor smoke: don’t burn any candles or fires. Vacuuming stirs up particles inside your home so consider holding off on vacuuming until the fires are over. Remove all air fresheners (for good).
Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Commonly found at hardware stores, these masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust and will not protect your lungs from smoke. A wet dishcloth or tea towel over your nose and mouth is more beneficial. As of 2020 N95 masks are needed to protect health care workers at risk from Covid-19: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/us/wildfire-smoke-covid-n95-masks.html
If you don’t have an air conditioner or are particularly sensitive to smoke, consider spending time in public areas such as a shopping mall, movie theater, or library.
Keep your cats indoors.
Hose down dogs after a walk, or brush them vigorously with a damp cloth.
Make sure you get some exercise if you are stuck indoors … run up and down the stairs or do 50-100 circuits of your house (to your favorite radio program or music)–or go to the mall for a walk once a day.
If you have to go out (for whatever reason) use a face covering—especially if you have any kind of chronic lung weakness or disease like asthma.
Homeopathic remedies to consider
During the wildfires in Florida, many people found relief from smoke inhalation symptoms by turning to one of the remedies below. If one of these remedies happens to be a good constitutional remedy for you, your loved ones, or your pets, then you may be more likely to need it during a “smoke attack” because of your susceptibility and the remedy’s ability to help this kind of problem. Depending on your symptoms, one of the following homeopathic remedies may prove useful for the effects of smoke:
Arsenicum album (Ars.)
For smoke exposure with anxiety.
For smoke exposure with anxiety.
Eyes burn and stream.
Nose burns and streams.
Cough is dry and worse at night.
Tremendous anxiety especially about what is going to happen–and restlessness.
For simple smoke exposure with irritation to eyes and possibly nose and no other symptoms.
Eyes stream and burn–lids are red, swollen, and sensitive.
Nose streams but doesn’t burn.
There may be a little daytime cough. The eyes stream on coughing.
Kali bichromicum (Kali-bi. or Kali-bich.)
For more serious smoke exposure with irritated sinuses and/or lungs.
Nose is blocked–nasal discharge is dry or comes out in sticky or stringy “plugs.”
Sinuses are sore, raw, irritated, and painful.
Cough is painful, and chest is sore.
Mucus coughed up with difficulty and is scanty, sticky, or stringy.
Kali muriaticum (Kali-m. or Kali-mur.)
Kali mur 6X or 12X (the cell salt) is a wonderful tonic for the mucus membranes and can be taken routinely to help strengthen the mucus membranes of the lungs, nose and sinuses.
Nose and sinuses blocked/stuffy.
Discharge from nose (and lungs) is white.
Tongue is white.
Ears are blocked/popping.
Natrum arsenicosum (Nat-ars.)
Great sensitivity to smoke. Useful when the indicated remedies haven’t helped much or at all.
Eyes dry and painful. They stream and smart on going out into the smoky air.
Sinuses feel blocked and are painful.
Racking cough. Lungs feel full of smoke.
Headache from the smoke.
Nux vomica (Nux-v.)
To help the body (especially the liver) clear out the effects of inhaled chemicals.
Irritable: physical and emotionally
Silica (Silicea or Sil.)
To help the body eject inhaled particles.
Nose dry and blocked–no sense of smell or taste.
Sinuses stuffed up and painful.
Dry, irritating cough from inhaled particles. With lumpy, yellow mucus.
There’s a strange feeling of something (a hair or dust) stuck at the back of the tongue.
Keep Rescue Remedy at hand and use liberally at any time for anyone who is stressed out, anxious or fearful—including children and pets. A small squirt under the tongue or in a glass of water (or pet’s water bowl) to be sipped as needed.
For emotional upsets especially for losses—again, whatever the reason. People feel sad but may have difficulty crying and/or they may have crying jags or even hysterical outbursts.
For shock with trembling and fear. Something bad happened and people feel shook up and can’t calm down.
Potency (strength): Take 6X, 6C, 12C, or 30C (whatever potency you have on hand is always the best potency).
My favorite potencies are 6X (or 12X) for the cell salts (Kali mur or Silica) and 12C for everything else … this is a lovely potency that can be safely repeated.
Frequency: Take 2-4 times a day (more often if symptoms are more bothersome).,
Repetitions: Stop on improvement and repeat as needed (i.e. if it helps and then same symptoms return).
If you’ve taken a remedy for 2-3 days and had no response, select a different remedy or call your homeopath.
If you are under constitutional homeopathic treatment, then please check with your homeopath before taking one of these remedies to make sure it is the right remedy for you and that it has a good relationship with your constitutional remedy (i.e. it won’t inadvertently “counteract” your remedy/stop it from working).
Of course I hope you are safe and out of the path of fires and smoke, and that you don’t need this information. You never know, though, when you or someone you know may be affected by the smoke from a wildfire (smoke travels long distances) or from any other type of fire. Unfortunately, a fire and attendant smoke inhalation can happen anywhere, so you might want to tuck this information away in a safe place, just in case.
Keeping Track of Wildfires
To stay current on wildfires around the country, check the website of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates eight major government agencies involved in fighting and monitoring wildfires: http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm
A Note About Evacuation Prep
Natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and hurricanes are wake-up calls for us to be prepared. If you were told you had a short time to evacuate your home, what would you take with you? Would you have to stop and think? Would worry and panic get in the way?
Having lived through numerous hurricane seasons in South Florida and chosen to evacuate several times, I can now answer these questions. Being prepared is definitely preferable to trying to decided what to take at the last minute.
I have two lists: one for if I only have 60 seconds (or less) to leave. The 2nd list is if I have an hour or more to leave and it includes items in the event I am unlikely to be able to return to my home. These are printed out and on the fridge so I don’t have to stop and think.
I have important papers (house deeds, passports, certificates, insurance papers, etc.) in a small case along with my homeopath travel kits and some other essentials (always packed near the front door) that I can pick up and fling in the car along with Ziggy the dog. We can pick up and go in literally 60 seconds if we have to. Having a system in place is reassuring. In the event of a real emergency, it can save precious time and the worry of important things left behind. And of course lives.
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