Wildfire Smoke Health Tips

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mossaab Benhammou
  • 92nd Medical Group

Wildfires impact health in many ways. Below are a few FAQs about staying healthy. 

Q: What is wildfire smoke and can it make me sick?

A: Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation. These particles can get into your eyes and lungs where they can cause health problems. Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air.

Q: What health problems does smoke cause?

A: Eye, nose, and throat irritation (burning eyes and runny nose), wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and headaches, aggravation of existing lung, heart, and circulatory conditions, including asthma and angina

Q: Who is especially sensitive to smoke?

A: Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone, even healthy people. 

People most likely to have health problems from breathing smoke include people with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including bronchitis and emphysema, respiratory infections, such as cold or flu, existing heart or circulatory problems, such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and angina, a prior history of heart attack or stroke, infants and children because their lungs and airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, older adults over age 65 (adults age 65 and older may have unrecognized heart or lung disease), smokers and diabetics.

Q: What can I do to protect myself and my family from outdoor smoke?

A: Check local air quality reports and listen to news or health warnings for your community. 

Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air. If you have asthma or other lung diseases, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. 

Call your health care provider if your symptoms worsen. Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. 

Take the following steps when indoors:   

Keep windows and doors closed. If there is no air conditioning and it is too hot to keep windows and doors closed, consider leaving the area. 

Run an air conditioner (if you have one), set it to re-circulate and close the fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter regularly. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution. A HEPA filter may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. A HEPA filter with charcoal will help remove some of the gases from the smoke. 

Don’t add to indoor pollution by using candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Don’t vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Don’t smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Q: Should I use a face mask when there is outdoor smoke?

If you cannot leave the smoky area or find other ways to reduce your exposure, certain types of face masks can provide some protection. Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 filter out fine particles but not hazardous gases (such as carbon monoxide). These masks can be found at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies. Face masks will not work for everyone.

Masks do not work on people with beards or small children because they do not seal well enough to provide protection.

Anyone with lung disease, heart disease, or who is chronically ill should consult a health care provider before using a mask. Wearing a mask makes it more difficult to breathe, which may worsen existing medical conditions.

Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks Fact Sheet (PDF) http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf

Q: Should I exercise outdoors when it’s smoky?

Avoid outdoor exercise when air quality is in the “Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, or Hazardous” categories. If you are sensitive to smoke, you should limit your outdoor activities when air quality is in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category. People with asthma and lung and heart conditions may be very sensitive to poor air quality and may start to have symptoms when air quality is in the “Moderate” category.

Q: What do I do if I am experiencing symptoms?

 For medical appointment, please call the appointment line at 247-2361. For emergencies, call 9-1-1 for immediate and urgent assistance.