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Wildfire Smoke's Impact on Musicians and How to Help

In times of increasing wildfires and the resulting smoke pollution, understanding the impacts and finding effective ways to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke is crucial. Before we dive into how to mitigate the harmful effects of smoke exposure on musicians, let's discuss how wildfire smoke specifically affects musicians.

How Wildfire Smoke Effects Our Voice

The most obvious category to consider when discussing wildfire smoke exposure for musicians is how it affects the voice. According to the Center for Vocal Health, symptoms of voice changes related to smoke exposure include:

  • loss of vocal range

  • increased mucous production

  • hoarseness

  • voice fatigue

  • difficulty in head voice and mixed voice

  • easy loss of voice (after shorter periods of use)

How Wildfire Smoke Effects Our Lungs

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the health effects of particle pollution exposure on our lungs can range from relatively minor such as respiratory tract irritation, to more serious health effects, like triggering asthma attacks. Fine particles are respiratory irritants, and exposure to high concentrations can cause persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Even in healthy people, exposure to fine particles can potentially lead to reductions in lung function and pulmonary inflammation, including our ability to filter out viruses and bacteria.

Whether its singing, using our lungs to play instruments, or heavy breathing to give a powerful performance, musicians are being impacted by wildfire smoke in the Northwest.

How to Care for Your Voice and Lungs During Wildfire Season

According to the experts at the Center for vocal health, there are home-based techniques singers can use to help soothe the effects of wildfire smoke on your voice.

Nasal Irrigation and Nasal Sprays

Because the smoke is inhaled and processed by our noses, this is the source of a lot of irritation and mucous production. Using nasal irrigation, like a neti pot, can clear particles from the nasal passages and help keep them hydrated.

Vocal Rest

Voice rest is also critical when the voice is swollen, so resting the voice is always a smart idea if you are experiencing adverse side effects of wildfire smoke. Just like athletes, musicians should be building in rest periods for their vocal cords, which are muscles, even if they are very small ones!

Extra Hydration

Hydration is effective at thinning out mucous and is a good general vocal health tip, even without smoke exposure. Be sure you drink above the recommended amount of water daily, and consider purchasing a humidifier.

Filter Your Indoor Air

HEPA filters are highly effective in limiting particulate in the air and should be considered for musicians in the Pacific Northwest, where we have annual exposure to wildfire smoke. You can create an affordable and efficient air filtration system at home using a simple box fan and a high-quality air filter.

How to Build a DIY Box Fan Air Filter

There are super simple DIY approaches that allow you to impact your indoor air quality and provide a cost-effective alternative to expensive commercial air purifiers. Let's dive in and discover how you can breathe cleaner, healthier air amidst challenging environmental conditions.

The Simplest approach: Tape your Merv 11 or above HEPA filter to the back of your box fan

The quickest, cheapest option is to tape a Merv 11 or above HEPA filter to the back of the box fan. Ensure the filter is completely sealed with tape around the edges, and the filter is facing the correct direction.

Alternative DIY Box Fan Air Filter Option: The Corsi-Rosenthal box Fan Filter

To create the Corsi-Rosenthaul Box Fan Filter, you need one box fan, four (can also be done with two in a triangle configuration) Merv 11 or above air filters, duct tape, and some cut-out cardboard. Most boxes can be constructed in less than 45 minutes, with materials costing about $80 to $100.

How to assemble this DIY room air purifier:

  1. Arrange the four air filters in a square (or triangle if using two filters).

  2. Secure the air filters together with duct tape as you create the shape. Seal the edges with duct tape between the filters.

  3. If using the square shape, place the fan on top of the filter square. Orient the fan so that the air is directed up towards the ceiling. If using a triangle configuration the fan should be placed standing upright with airflow facing out.

  4. Add a shroud to the top of the box fan. The circle should be centered on the fan. Create a shroud for the fan by cutting an 18-inch circle in the middle of the cardboard to block off the corners of the fan without blocking the airflow. Use duct tape to secure the shroud. If using the triangle configuration, create a triangle shroud for the top and bottom of the triangle to

  5. Plug the fan in, turn it on, and enjoy cleaner air!

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