Due to the 10,000-acre Eagle Creek Fire, which started burning Saturday afternoon, air quality levels in the region have reached a "very unhealthy" level, skyrocketing to 246 on the Air Quality Index in Portland.

Due to the increased air pollution, you might have seen an increased number of people walking around with smoke masks in Portland today.

Turns out, these people probably weren't much more protected than you.

"The average-level dust mask or surgical mask don't help at all because the smaller particles can get through that," says Dr. Ann Thomas, a physician with the Oregon Public Health division.

"It is quite daunting to see the ash," she says. "Although it's sort of ugly and scary, it's not the worst of your problems."

Thomas says an N95 mask, which you can get at a hardware store, might help, but only if you get it fit-tested, a tedious process. "It's probably not worthwhile for someone to go get one at a hardware store," she says.

The smaller particles Thomas is referring are "more problematic" than ash, she says, explaining that the smoke can potentially expose us to gasses like carbon monoxide and cyanide.

"To the average healthy person it's an annoyance. There's some irritation to eyes and nose and can cause some coughing and it can enter your bloodstream and can cause toxins in your body," she says. "Some people do complain about headache and nausea; the good news is that even if you're exposed on and off for a few weeks, there generally aren't any long-term risks."

Thomas recommends avoiding being in the smoke, drinking plenty of water, rolling up your windows while driving and making sure to circulate the air in your car. For people with underlying conditions, she encourages them to make sure they have access to their usual medications and refills. Senior citizens, children and people with heart or lung conditions are particularly at risk.

"The idea to remember is: If you stayed out running and were out for hours, you could feel quite sick afterward, but in general, if you follow common sense, there probably aren't going to be any long term effects," she says.

As far as the dilemma of whether or not to close or open your windows at night, she says to look to the DEQ's Air Quality Index map. (The map is currently experiencing technical issues due to high site traffic. You can also check the Oregon Smoke Blog or the EPA's Air Now site to check current air quality conditions.)

If the map says the air is at an "unhealthy" level, it's better if you can keep your windows closed. (Booking a hotel room is another, pricier option.)

If you have a cough that you feel getting worse, trouble breathing or chest pain, nausea or a headache that doesn't subside even if you've been inside for a few hours, Thomas recommends calling your doctor.