Protecting your Health from Wildfire Smoke
For the people of Colorado and many other areas this year, we have been experiencing the smoky air from the many wildfires going on through out the area. Colorado is like a giant tinder box with red flag warnings and high fire danger everywhere.
While the destruction to structures and to the habitat are devastating, wildfires also produce smoke that can reach far past the areas where the fire is burning.
What is wildfire smoke made up of?
Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases, and fine particles from burning trees, plants, buildings, and other material.
Wildfire smoke causes health issues
The smoke causes physical problems such as: watery or dry stinging eyes, a scratchy throat, runny nose, headaches, coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, shortness of breath, irritated sinuses, asthma issues, lung problems, irregular or fast heartbeat, chest pain and fatigue.
It certainly causes more problems for those with chronic heart or lung disease, asthma, chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) elderly, children and pregnant women.
AQI or Air Quality Index
The purity of air is so important that the government created an index to measure it. This is called the Air Quality Index or AQI. It is the number that the government agencies use to let you know what the air pollution level is.
The higher the AQI is the more of a health risk it is to the affected area. This is extremely important for those at a high risk with asthma, lung or heart disease, pregnant women, the elderly and children.
Photo curtesy of North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District
Tips for protecting yourself from breathing Wildfire smoke
- Pay attention to the air quality reports the US Air Quality Index. While the wildfires are burning, pay attention to the news and health warnings about smoke.
- Pay attention to visibility guides. Not every community measures the number of particles in the air, but many have guidelines to help people estimate air quality based on how far you can see.
- Reduce exposure to wildfire smoke. Stay inside and limit your time outside. If it isn’t necessary, don’t do it. Keep your windows and doors closed.
- Keep the indoor air clean. Fans and air filters can help. Run the air conditioner but keep the filter clean to prevent smoke from coming in.
- Use a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal without producing ozone. This can help protect people with asthma, heart disease or other respiratory conditions as well as elderly and children. Make sure to follow the instructions on filter replacement. Avoid the electronic air cleaners. They produce small amounts of ozone which is a respiratory irritant.
Protecting your Health from Wildfire Smoke
- Do not add to indoor pollution Don’t burn candles, incense and fireplaces. Do not smoke tobacco or other products indoors. Avoid spraying aerosol products, frying, and broiling meat,
- Keep your vacuum filter clean. Vacuuming can stir up particles already in your home. Try to vacuum when the elderly, children or people with health issues are not around.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper masks or material masks trap large particles such as sawdust. But they will not protect your lungs from smoke.
- Reduce activity. By reducing physical activity, it lowers the dose of inhaled air pollutants and reduces health risks during a smoke event.
- Avoid additional exposure. Before you travel to a park or forest, know where the fires are and where the smoke is traveling.
- Remove smoky clothing. If you have been outdoors and your clothes absorb the smoke, remove them, shower, and put on clean clothes. Wash the smoky clothing as soon as possible. This helps to prevent the smell passing onto other things in your home.
- Follow your doctor’s advice about medicine and your respiratory management plan. If you are in the at-risk group with respiratory problems, asthma, lung disease or cardiovascular disease you need to discuss an air pollution action plan with your doctor. Are you experiencing breathing problems? If symptoms worsen, call your doctor.
If you experience health problems, see your physician for treatment. The experts at Colorado ENT are here to help you with ear, nose, and throat issues, whether they are caused by wildfire smoke or something completely unrelated. Call us today at 719-867-7800.
For more information about wildfire smoke, see the PDF Wildfire Smoke, a guide for public health officials.