Tips for Staying Healthy During Wildfire Season

Tips for Staying Healthy During Wildfire Season

A dry summer and heavy winds are making this another year of widespread wildfires across much of the U.S. Wildfires can do a lot of damage, including to your health. And people with certain health conditions could experience more serious health threats.

Wildfires can put your immediate safety at risk if you are in an active fire and evacuation area. Smoke from wildfires can also carry toxic respiratory irritants that can trigger asthma attacks and lung health problems for many more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   (CDC), exposure can cause chest pain, a fast heartbeat and wheezing, and it can bring on an asthma attack. Besides coughing and trouble breathing, many people experience symptoms similar to a sinus infection or allergies, such as headaches, sore throat, itchy eyes, a runny nose and even tiredness.

The elderly, pregnant women, children and those with chronic heart and lung diseases are at higher risk. People who work outdoors also pose a risk. Talk with your doctor about how to prepare for the smoke if you are at risk.

Protect Your Lung Health

As wildfires give off more and more smoke, it’s important to protect your health and take simple steps to reduce exposure to smoke and ash particle pollution:

  • Avoid prolonged outdoor exposure. Hiking, camping and outdoor sports may need to wait. Check air quality reports before you venture out. Even better, stay indoors.
  • Change your clothes if you’ve been outside because smoke and fire particles can cling to your clothing.
  • Rinse out red, irritated eyes, and wipe face and eyelashes with a wet cloth.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice and take prescribed medicines if you have asthma or other lung diseases.
  • Seek emergency care for children and the elderly if they have difficulty breathing or a change in their level of consciousness.

Keeping your home air quality safe is important:

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports and public health warnings.
  • Make sure your home air system uses HEPA filters. A fan with a HEPA filter pulls the air in and pushes it out while filtering even the smallest pieces of ash out of the air. If possible, close the fresh-air intake so you are recycling air that has already been filtered.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. Use damp towels under doors and other places where outside air may come in.
  • If your home doesn’t have an air conditioner, seek shelter elsewhere when it gets too hot to keep your house closed up tight. You can visit the public library or spend a few hours in an indoor mall.
  • Don’t smoke, burn candles or use gas burners. They only add to irritants already in the air.
  • Limit the use of cleaning supplies that give off fumes and try not to vacuum often. Instead, use wet cloths and mops to capture the dust on floors and furniture.
  • If you must get out, keep the windows closed and air vents off in the car.

If you have chronic lung health Issues, the American Lung Association    encourages you to check in with your doctor before you make any changes to your care plan. Your doctor will want to consider changes to your medicine, mask or oxygen use based on the air quality in your area and how you are feeling.

Sources: Wildfires American Lung Association, 2021,  Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021

Originally published 8/26/2020; Revised 2021