Face masks can help protect you from smoky air in Minnesota

Keeping flowers looking gorgeous and healthy means J.P. Pizarro is outside for eight hours a day at Sunnyside Gardens.

He's wearing a mask again at work, but now, it's not because of the pandemic.

"It's very hard to work in. We had to wear the mask again, just because...it’s not safe to be around," said Pizarro.

Pizarro says the Linden Hills business shortened hours this week and workers are masked up because of the poor air quality.

Respiratory therapists at Hennepin Healthcare are seeing the impact, too.

"We have definitely seen more people with chronic lung disease, like asthma, COPD, emphysema," said Hennepin Healthcare Respiratory Care clinical supervisor, Denise Eide.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is calling this an unprecedented long-duration air quality event, extending the alert throughout the entire state through Tuesday morning.

The worst air is expected to arrive Saturday morning.

"All of your viewers can probably expect to see some irritation in their mucus membranes, maybe a runny nose, scratchy throat, itchy, watery eyes," said Eide.

The side effects are painful and annoying, but Eide says it's not likely to cause any long-term health problems if you are healthy.

"If you look at a country like China, where poor air quality is chronic, you do see things like higher rates of asthma and emphysema. You always worry about something like that...frankly, a week seems like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really," said Eide.

So, how can you protect yourself and your lungs if you need to go outside?

The good news is we all already have face masks, and respiratory therapists say they can help prevent you from breathing in particulate matter in the air.

Don't forget about your pets either. The bad air can also impact them, so the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends limiting their time outside and not taking them for any long walks or runs while the air quality is poor.