(CBS4) – So I didn’t think a quick trip to the hardware store this morning would be a big deal. The sky was a little hazy, but it was early, and I couldn’t smell any of the smoke that decided to move into our (and probably your) neighborhood lately.

Haze in Louisville, Colorado, on Aug. 19, 2020.

Haze in Louisville on Aug. 19. (credit: CBS)

Boy, was I wrong.

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After a 45-minute round trip, my eyes were burning, head was plugged, my throat felt like it was filled with gravel, and my lungs had a contest to see just how hard they could cough.

I know the air quality has been bad for a while, and I know we’ve all tried to be careful, but for some reason, today was just over the top.

So what is attacking our bodies … and our minds?

An ugly concoction of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, soot, fine carbon particulates, and ozone, among other things.

(source: CBS)

So what can you do?

The obvious answer is pretty much stay indoors with the AC running. But that’s not possible for all of us, all of the time. And even our homes are not pollution-tight, so no place is an absolute respiratory sanctuary.

Yet, it is being outside that will really get you, even if you don’t have underlying heart or lung disease or some underlying risk factor. Healthy people can also get nailed by this airborne witch’s brew.

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That means, if you want to go out and exercise, think twice. Exertion will make you breathe more deeply, sucking those fine particles into the depth of your airways, down to something called the alveoli, which is where oxygen (and pollution) enters your bloodstream. And on the way down, the airways carrying all of this stuff will get inflamed and irritated, almost like someone took a scrub brush to them. You don’t want that. (And btw, we just don’t know if raw, inflamed noses, throats, and lungs predispose us to COVID— but why take a chance?)

A view of the Red Rocks landscape on Saturday with major haze in the air in the Denver metro area.

A view of the Red Rocks landscape on Saturday with major haze in the air in the Denver metro area. (credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The advice, therefore, is “limit your outdoor activities”. What does that mean? Is there a formal time limit? No, there isn’t. Too many variables to calculate an exact number, so the best answer may be to simply use your head.

A few other thoughts:

Eye irritation– Some artificial tears may be helpful. If you wear contacts, maybe an occasional switch to glasses may help.

Nose irritation– Salt water, or saline nasal spray can soothe the nasal passageways.

Throat– Plenty of water. This is a time to drink (I mean water, here).

Lungs– a mask isn’t going to protect you because the invisible fine particles you’re inhaling are too small to be filtered well by anything short of a respirator, or perhaps an N-95 grade mask. If your lungs are raw, get inside. If you can’t get your breath, get to a doctor. And if you feel sick, go see a doctor.

In the meantime, send your thoughts to the firefighters, the rain gods, and wind makers.

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Like everything else in 2020, this too shall pass. And we are all in this together.

Dr. Dave Hnida