Signs and Symptoms of Smoke Exposure
Wildfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can make you cough and wheeze, and can make it hard to breathe for some people. If you have asthma or another lung disease, or heart disease, inhaling wildfire smoke can be especially bad for you.
Most healthy people will recover quickly from wildfire smoke exposure and will not suffer long-term health consequences. However, certain people may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms. Fine particles from smoke and coarse particles from ash can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Wildfire smoke exposure can also trigger exacerbations of asthma, chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart conditions.
What Can I Do to Limit My Exposure to Wildfire Smoke?
If you see or smell smoke, protect your health by avoiding exposure. The best way to protect yourself is to stay indoors in cleaner air and minimize the amount of time spent outdoors in smoky conditions, until smoke levels subside.
There are many precautions you can take to limit your exposure to wildfire smoke:
- Keep windows and doors closed to keep the smoke from coming indoors.
- Turn off continuous ventilation systems that pull in outside air. Set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.
- Close fireplace dampers.
- Make sure you don’t introduce other sources of indoor air pollution by avoiding smoking, frying food, burning candles, and running the vacuum.
- Indoor air quality can be improved by using portable HEPA filters and frequently changing your home heating system’s integrated air filter with a properly rated particulate filter.
- Check air quality readings before allowing children to practice outdoor sports while air quality is unhealthy.
- If it is too warm to stay indoors with the windows closed, or if you are especially sensitive to smoke, consider temporary re-location.
- Environmental Protection Agency has info about how wildfire smoke affects indoor air quality.
Individuals With Health Conditions
Children, older adults, individuals with lung or heart disease, pregnant individuals, and people with social vulnerabilities are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
- Individuals with health conditions should talk to their physicians to develop a personal plan for dealing with smoke.
- Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant individuals, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion, and should either reschedule outdoor activities or move them to another location.
- Elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or other respiratory conditions.
- People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.
- Keep up to two weeks’ worth of extra medication on hand. Be ready with plans to treat asthma or diabetes when there is smoke.
- Contact your physician if you have cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms believed to be caused by smoke. If you are concerned, consult with your physician for personalized recommendations.
- Leave the affected area if possible, for the duration of the heavy smoke event.
What should I know about using a respirator?
If you cannot stay indoors or away from smoke because you work outdoors, or if prolonged outdoor activity is unavoidable, a special mask called a respirator might help protect your lungs.
- There is no clear evidence that respirator use benefits an individual’s health against wildfire smoke.
- Respirators can be harmful if not used properly, and individuals with lung or heart problems should ask their doctor before using one.
- There are several kinds of respirators. A common one is called an N95 respirator because it’s designed to filter out 95% of very fine particles if fitted properly.
- A properly fitted respirator makes it difficult to breathe and is difficult to use for long periods of time. Respirators with valves on the front make it easier to exhale.
- Respirators may be dangerous for certain persons with lung or heart conditions.
- There are no respirators designed to properly fit children.
Facial hair does not allow a good respirator fit. Without a good fit, the respirator does not offer much, if any, protection.
- Taking a mask on and off may cause fine particles to build up in the mask, which the wearer will breathe when it is put back on the face.
What kind of respirator should I use?
Before deciding to wear a respirator, please review the above information to determine if it is safe or necessary for you to use a respirator, or discuss with your doctor. Choose a respirator that has the word “NIOSH” approved and either “N95” or “N100” printed on it. Respirators have two straps that go around your head.
Where do I get a respirator?
Respirators are sold at many hardware, home repair stores, and pharmacies.