How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health
Smoke may smell good, but it's not good for you.
If you are healthy, you're usually not at a major risk from smoke.
Still, it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help
Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles
produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health
threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles
can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause
health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses
such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart
and lung diseases - and even are linked to premature deaths
in people with these conditions.
Some people are more susceptible than others:
If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive
heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema
or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower
smoke levels than healthy people.
Older adults are more likely to be affected by
smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung
diseases than younger people.
Children also are more susceptible to smoke for
several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing;
they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight
than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
How to tell if smoke is affecting you:
can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy
throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose.
If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms
People with heart disease might experience chest pain, palpitations,
shortness of breath, or fatigue. People with lung disease may not
be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and they
may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort,
wheezing and shortness of breath.
When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience
some of these symptoms.
It's important to limit your exposure to smoke - especially
if you may be susceptible. Here are some steps you can take to protect
attention to local air quality reports. Stay alert to any
news coverage or health warnings related to smoke. Also find out
if your community reports EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI,
based on data from local air quality monitors, tells you about the
daily air quality in your area and recommends precautions you can
take to protect your health. As smoke gets worse, the concentration
of particles in the air changes - and so do the steps you should
take to protect yourself.
Use visibility guides, where they're available. Not every community has a monitor that measures particle levels
in the air. In the western United States, some areas without air
quality monitors have developed guidelines to help people estimate
the AQI based on how far they can see. Check with your local air
quality agency to find out if there's a visibility guide for your
If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an
older adult, or if you have children, talk with your
doctor about steps you should take to protect yourself if
smoke affects your community. If you live in a fire-prone
area, plan ahead! Talk with your doctor before fire season,
so you'll know what to do in a smoky situation.
Only your doctor can advise you about your specific health
situation. But EPA's Air Quality Index can
help you protect yourself when particle levels are high. Check
the table below for specific
steps you can take.
For more information:
- If there is an active fire in your area, follow your local news or fire web sites for up-to-date information.
- About wildfires, including current status:http://www.nifc.gov/
About indoor air quality: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html
Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it's
probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it's
probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors.
If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps
to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors
closed - unless it's extremely hot outside. Run your air conditioner,
if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter
clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. Note: If you
don't have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed
may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek
Help keep particle levels inside lower. When smoke
levels are high, try to avoid using anything that burns, such as
wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves - and even candles! Don't
vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don't
smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in
the lungs of people around you.
If you have asthma or other lung disease, make
sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines
and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your
If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older
adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about
whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy
for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors
even though you may not be able to see them.
Air cleaners can help indoors-but
buy before a fire.
Some room air cleaners can help reduce particle levels indoors,
as long as they are the right type and size for your home. If you
choose to buy an air cleaner, don't wait until there's a fire -
make that decision beforehand. Note: Don't use an air cleaner that
generates ozone. That just puts more pollution in your home.
For more information about home air cleaners, go to: www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/residair.html
Dust masks aren't enough!
Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks - the kinds you commonly can
buy at the hardware store - are designed to trap large particles,
such as sawdust. These masks generally will not protect your lungs
from the fine particles in smoke.
|Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution
||Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion
|Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
||People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children
should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
|| 151 to 200
||People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion
| Very Unhealthy Alert
||201 to 30
||People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.
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