WILDFIRE SMOKE AND YOUR HEALTH
WHO IS MOST SENSITIVE?
- People with pre-existing lung or heart disease including asthma, emphysema, COPD and cardiovascular disease.
- Elderly people, both because everyone’s lungs become less efficient with age and because elders are more likely to have chronic respiratory diseases
- Young children (especially 7 years and younger) and pregnant women, both of whom breathe more air per pound of body weight than most of us.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF SMOKE?
- Symptoms related to asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory or circulatory problems may occur. Be especially watchful of those who have a pre-existing condition.
- While anyone can experience serious symptoms from smoke, by far the more likely consequences for healthy people are minor. Heavy smoke can cause some eye, nose & throat irritation, coughing and headaches.
- Light smoke will not noticeably or significantly affect most people’s health.
- Drink plenty of fluids especially when very warm or hot
- Watch those with known lung or heart disease as well as elders and children.
- Unexpected fatigue, headaches or confusion can indicate heat exhaustion and/or breathing problems.
- Keep inhalers and similar medicines readily available.
- If you notice anything of concern or symptoms persist, immediately contact your primary health care provider.
MINIMIZE YOUR EXPOSURE
- Avoid outdoor exercise
- When outdoors, where a NIOSH approved N95 particulate mask (also called a respirator).
- Stay indoors. Keep your windows and doors shut. Keep indoor air clean
- Close doors and windows especially at night when smoke tends to settle in low areas. Typically smoke clears by late morning/early afternoon allowing a chance to air out the house.
- Run only a filtered air conditioner, preferably on “recirculate”. High-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters are best.
- Avoid running a swamp cooler, whole house fan or “fresh air ventilation system” as these devices can draw in smoke. Try using a fan instead for relief from the heat.
- When indoors avoid compounding smoke with other air pollution sources. For example, avoid burning candles or wood or gas stoves. Vacuum and mow when it isn’t as smokey.
- Consider leaving the area temporarily and going to a location where the air is clean.
ABOUT N95 RESPIRATORS/MASKS
- Paper, surgical and regular dust masks are not effective in filtering out smoke. Use only NIOSH approved respirators (they have NIOSH N95 printed on them). The N95 means that these respirators filter out a minimum of 95% of particles in the air.
- Follow the directions on fitting the mask. Chose respirators with two straps. Replace mask daily or when it is difficult to breathe through it.
- Respirators are not designed for young children or those with facial hair and may not provide full protection. Use precautions described above to minimize exposure to heavy smoke concentrations.
- o People with chronic respiratory, cardiac or other medical conditions that make it harder to breathe should check with their healthcare provider before using an N95 respirator.
- For those who are respiratory-sensitive, consider purchasing a portable room-size HEPA air filter unit or installing a HEPA air filtration system in your air conditioning/furnace system.
- If you know you and/or your loved ones are particularly sensitive to smoke and cannot install a HEPA air filter in your home, plan ahead for an alternate place to stay where you will not be impacted by smoke.
WHAT IS YOUR HEALTH RISK?
Visibility can serve as a good gauge of air quality. The following chart includes guidelines for determining air quality based on visibility. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an index that tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The AQI focuses on health affects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air.