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How Smoke from Forest Fires Can Affect Your Health

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How Smoke from Forest Fires Can Affect Your Health


This dry Colorado summer has been causing some major problems with forest fires around the state. With forest fires comes bad air quality. Have you wondered what the smoke in the air and poor air quality can do to your health? This post will help you understand what smokey air can do to your body.

While everyone differs and not everyone has the same sensitivity to forest fire smoke, it’s still a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it. And when smoke is heavy, especially in communities with fires, it’s bad for everyone.

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure has even been linked to premature death.

Who is at risk?

It’s especially important for you to pay attention to local air quality reports during a fire if live nearby. If you have any of the following items, it’s particularly important that you steer clear of smoke because these groups are more at risk, including:

  • Any person with heart or lung disease, such as heart failure, angina, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.

  • Older adults are generally more likely to have heart or lung disease than younger people

  • Children and teenagers are generally at risk because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults, they’re more likely to be active outdoors, and they’re more likely to have asthma.

  • Anyone with diabetes, because you are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular disease.

  • Pregnant women, because there could be potential health effects for both you and the developing fetus.

Is smoke affecting you? How you can tell.

High concentrations of smoke can trigger a range of symptoms.

  • Anyone may experience 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 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 may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath.

How to protect yourself from the smoke!

It’s really important to limit your exposure to smoke. Especially if you are at increased risk for particle-related effects. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • If you have heart, vascular or lung disease, including asthma, talk with your healthcare provider before fire season to make plans. Discuss when to leave the area, how much medicine to have on hand, and your asthma action plan if you have asthma.

  • Keep the toxins in your home down by having a several-day supply of nonperishable foods that do not require cooking. Cooking, especially frying and broiling, can add to indoor pollution levels.

  • Consider buying an air cleaner/purifier. Some room air purifiers can help reduce particle levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your rooms as specified by the manufacturer.

  • Have a supply of medical/surgical masks on hand, and learn how to use them correctly. They are sold at many hardware and home repair stores and online.

Still have questions about how smoke from forest fires can affect your health? Talk to your doctor and specifically mention any ailments you may have so they can help tailor a plan for you.

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