Even if where you live has not been directly impacted by wildfires, you might have noticed a grayish haze in the air. As we advance into the hotter summer months, fire season continues to worsen. This means more fires, at a higher frequency and increased severity.
While you may not have been forced to evacuate, wildfires can still leave lasting damage on you, your family, and our environment. In fact, one of the worst consequences of the increased number of wildfires is the complex mixture of gases produced when organic material burns – i.e, smoke.
Smoke from wildfires can pose a huge threat to our health. In this blog post, we examine the impact smoke from wildfires has on our health, who is most at risk, and how we can identify health hazards from hazardous air quality.
How smoke from wildfires affects our health
Unfortunately, exposure to wildfire smoke in the short term is quite harmful as it can reach into the recesses of our lung tissue when inhaled and increase inflammation. In the long-term, the damages are unclear but it’s safe to say we do not want to take any added risks.
Who is the most at risk?
Some people are more sensitive to wildfire smoke than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be breathing it in without any safety precautions or take any preventative measures to avoid it if you are young, healthy, and do not have any pre-existing respiratory conditions.
When smoke is heavy enough that air quality is impacted, it can be bad for everyone. Still, there are folks who are especially at risk. These individuals may want to pay special attention to air quality reports during fire season. This includes anyone who:
- Is an older adult.
- Has a respiratory or cardiovascular disease. This may include angina, heart disease, emphysema, asthma, etc.
- Has diabetes or potential for other underlying cardiovascular disease.
- Is pregnant, because there may be health effects for the developing fetus and the mother.
- Are a child or a young teenager, as your respiratory system is still developing. Also, many children suffer from asthma.
Are you experiencing symptoms of smoke inhalation?
A high concentration of smoke poses a risk to anyone who may be within proximity of its effects, whether young, old, ill, or healthy. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms and are in an area that has seen the impacts of wildfire or wildfire smoke, you may want to seek out medical care or get in touch with a medical practitioner.
Symptoms of smoke inhalation or exposure to wildfire smoke include:
- Burning, red eyes
- Running nose
- Cough and phlegm
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy throat
If you have a vascular, lung, or heart disease and feel as though you may be experiencing symptoms of exposure to wildfire smoke, talk with a health care provider. They may be able to offer you advice on how to limit your exposure or offer advice on how to make the most of staying indoors while the air quality clears up.
How can we protect ourselves from wildfire smoke?
Even if you are not an at-risk category, it is a good idea to limit your exposure to smoke as much as possible. If you are particularly sensitive to the effect from wildfire smoke, it is best to ask your health care provider for their professional advice.
Consider purchasing a several-day supply of foods that do not require cooking and/or are considered non-perishable. This can ensure you are cooking as minimally as possible. Cooking, especially broiling or frying, can add to the accumulation of particles in the air and contribute to indoor pollution.
Purchase an air filter. Some air cleaners will help to reduce indoor particle levels.
Pay attention to local air quality reports. Some days, concentration in the air will increase – and some days it may be unsafe to go outside altogether. If you have a condition or are at-risk, you may want to take preventative measures even sooner than guidelines would suggest.
Don’t plan to go for a run or spend a lot of time exercising vigorously outside.
“Masks” won’t work to protect your lungs from fine particles. Some masks, like P-100 respirators or N-95 may do the trick, but these have to be fitted properly and purchased from special online stores or hardware shops.
If you are told to stay indoors, abide by the regulations and ensure that all your doors and windows are closed. If you have AC, be sure that it is running and ensure that it is clean so that no additional smoke is brought indoors.
Undeniably, wildfires – or at least at the frequency and severity that they have been occurring lately – have the potential to wreak havoc on our ecosystems, our health, our businesses, and the way that we live. With the right preventative measures and the knowhow to keep ourselves informed, we can stay safe during fire season!