What is Wildfire smokeWildfire smoke includes a mixture of gasses and fine particles that are produced with wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat is from the fine particles; microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs. Other health problems include burning eyes, runny nose and aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Importantly, exposure to particle pollution has even been linked to premature death.
How Does it affect our health?This depends on the length of time you are exposed, how much air you breath, and the concentration of smoke in the air. I’m not particularly active outdoors, but I’ve noticed it feels like I have a 5lb bag of potatoes on my chest and my sinuses are very sore, the smoke causes headaches too. I’ve begun using Vicks vaporub under my nose to open those nasal passages and help breathing. Throat lozenges help with the sore throat and many now include vitamin C. But I am thinking a lot about all of you out there; working in these smoky conditions. Please take some precautions - the smoke is serious, and can cause lasting damage to your health.
People at Risk
- Persons with heart or lung disease such as angina, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
- Teenagers because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults and they are more likely to be active outdoors, more likely to have asthma.
- Persons with diabetes, because you are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular disease.
- Pregnant women, because there is potential health effects for both mom and the developing fetus.
Signs that smoke is affecting you
- Anyone experiencing burning eyes, a runny nose, cough, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing
- If you have heart or lung disease, smoke may make your symptoms worse
- People with heart disease may experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath or fatigue
- Those with lung disease may experience difficulty breathing deeply or as vigorously as usual and may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath
Protect YourselfI realize you may be working outside for your entire 12-hour shift, but try to limit your exposure, if you can’t maybe these steps can help;
- Pay attention to local air quality reports and the Air Quality Health Index check with your doctor if you are having breathing problems.
- Wear N-95 Particulate masks; sold at many hardware and home repair stores and can give some relief.
- Dust masks, scarves or bandanas whether wet or dry, won’t help.
- If you have asthma or another lung disease, have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen.
- Try to limit your outdoor activities; don’t run or engage in vigorous activities for prolonged periods of time – I think this should also include your dogs.
- Set construction workers or costumers making those costumers 911 runs should wear masks, if possible.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have heart, vascular or lung disease, including asthma; discuss when you need to leave the area, how much medicine to have on hand, and make an action plan if you have asthma.
- Teamsters and drivers should keep the vehicle windows closed and put the air system on re-circulate.
At Home and Work
- Have a several-day supply of nonperishable foods that do not require cooking; cooking – frying and broiling can add to indoor pollution levels.
- Consider buying an HEPA air cleaner; some air cleaners can help reduce particle levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for the rooms. Check with the manufacturer. If you do buy one, try to make that decision beforehand. Don’t use an air cleaner that generates ozone; that just puts more pollution into your home.
- Try to keep indoor air as clean as possible; keep windows and doors closed, unless it’s extremely hot outside.
- Run your air condition and keep the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. Open windows when the air quality improves; staying inside during extremely hot weather may be dangerous so think about finding alternative shelter where the air is cleaner.
- Grow some air-cleaning plants ...
- When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors; avoid using anything that burns – wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves and even candles.
- Don’t vacuum; it stirs up particles already inside.
- Don’t smoke; it puts even more pollution in your lungs, and those around you.
When should I seek medical care?
- A persistent or worsening cough
- Shortness of breath beyond what is usually experienced
- Chest pain or tightness
- Significant weakness or fatigue.