When smoke from a wildfire (such as a forest fire or grassland fire) enters a community, it can cause problems for the people who live there. The biggest health risk comes from small particles in the smoke. These particles can get in your eyes, breathing (respiratory) system, and bloodstream. This can cause:
• burning eyes
• a runny nose
• trouble breathing or illnesses like bronchitis
If you have a heart or lung problem, these small particles can make it worse.
If smoke is a problem where I live, what can I do to lower my health risk?
If smoke is a problem in your community, stay inside as much as possible and keep all windows and doors closed. Here’s what else you can do to keep your indoor air clean:
• Close fresh air intakes from furnaces, fireplaces, or stoves.
• Turn on your air conditioning if you have it and set it to recirculate. Keep it running to help filter the air and keep your family cool. (Just remember that some air conditioning systems don’t filter the air or improve indoor air quality.)
• If you have room air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, turn them on. Don’t use air cleaners that may produce ozone. For portable air cleaners, follow all the manufacturer’s instructions for changing the filter, where to place the device, and the size of room it’s meant to be used in.
• Use humidifiers, which might help remove some of the smoke. The humid air can also help keep your nose and mouth moist.
• Don’t use wood stoves, gas stoves, or candles because they make the indoor air quality worse. If you can, prepare foods that you don’t have to cook. Cooking (especially frying and broiling) can affect the air quality in your home.
• Don’t use spray air fresheners or electric fragrance dispensers because they can affect air quality.
• Don’t vacuum because it stirs up particles that are already inside your home.
• Don’t let anyone smoke, vape, or use e-cigarettes in your home.
What if I need to leave my home?
When the air quality is poor and you’re in your vehicle, keep the windows closed. Put the air system on recirculate so smoky air doesn’t get inside. When driving through an area with low or no smoke, switch the circulation system to let outside air into your vehicle.
Can wearing a mask help protect me from smoke?
• Most masks you can buy at stores don’t protect you from smoke. The harmful particles are so small that they can go around or through the mask. An N95 mask, properly worn, offers some protection. It’s best to stay inside with the windows and doors closed instead of relying on a mask to protect you from smoke.
• Can I still be active when there’s wildfire smoke in the air?
• When you’re outside, don’t do any heavy activity or exercise. Heavy activity and exercise can make you breathe 10 to 20 times more than you do while you’re resting. Stop or slow down if what you’re doing makes you cough or feel tired.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. This will keep your nose and mouth moist, which makes it easier to breathe. This is important when you’re inside and outside.
• When there is a lot of haze in the air, don’t let your children play outside for a long time.
What if I start to feel unwell?
• When there’s wildfire smoke where you live, pay close attention to your health, especially if you have heart or lung problems. Take all your regular medicines. Do everything your healthcare provider told you to do and contact your healthcare provider if you have any health concerns, even if you don’t have heart or lung problems.
• If you have chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or another health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.