Inhaling wildfire smoke can cause chest pain, fatigue, and other short- and long-term health problems. But with the right approach, you can protect your health against wildfire smoke.
California wildfire season is underway. It shows no signs of slowing down any time soon, either.
Wildfires have consumed about 2 million acres in California in 2021. Meanwhile, projections indicate “large fire activity” may continue from September through December, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Thom Porter stated.
As wildfire season continues, it helps to plan ahead. A wildfire can have far-flung effects on the health of anyone in its path. However, those who understand the health risks of wildfires can prepare accordingly. They can even take steps to protect themselves and others against wildfire smoke.
Everything You Need to Know About Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke is produced from the burning of wood and other organic materials. It consists of gases and fine particles.
The fine particles of wildfire smoke can penetrate the lungs. If this happens, people can experience a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Burning eyes
- Runny nose
- Heart and/or lung disease
- Chest pain
Certain groups of people are more susceptible than others to serious health problems due to wildfire smoke inhalation. These include:
- People who have been diagnosed with heart or lung diseases
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
Limited exposure to wildfire smoke can cause physical health problems for people in the aforementioned groups and others. Prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke can lead to premature death among people of all ages, too.
Therefore, you need to do everything in your power to guard against wildfire smoke. You also need to consider how you will respond if you inadvertently inhale wildfire smoke.
How to Protect Your Health Against Wildfire Smoke
If you inhale wildfire smoke, try not to panic. At this point, you may have trouble breathing or start coughing or wheezing.
If you remain in an area where there is a high concentration of wildfire smoke for an extended period of time, you may be susceptible to heart, vascular, or lung disease, or other long-lasting health issues.
Of course, you only get one life to live and you need to make the most of it. If you know how to protect your health against wildfire smoke, you can limit your exposure to it. You can also respond appropriately if you inhale smoke during a wildfire.
Wildfire smoke may seem unstoppable at times, but there are many things you can do to protect your health against it. These include:
1. Meet with Your Doctor
Consult with your doctor if you experience health issues following wildfire smoke inhalation. Your doctor can conduct an evaluation and offer a personalized treatment to help you address your symptoms in their early stages.
Your doctor can help you prepare for wildfire season. As such, it can be beneficial to meet with your doctor annually before wildfire season begins.
This allows you to receive a medical evaluation for health tips, recommendations, and insights you can use to prepare for wildfire season.
2. Review Local Air Quality Reports
Watch for local air quality reports that show if there are high concentrations of wildfire smoke in your area. You can access these reports 24/7 via AirNow. Additionally, you can get updates on the air quality in your city or town from your local news.
Air quality reports are developed based on the EPA’s U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI), which scores air quality on a scale of 0 to 500. Typically, AQI values at or below 100 are considered satisfactory. The higher an AQI score, the greater the level of pollution in the air.
3. Wear an N-95 or P-100 Respirator
Pick up an N-95 or P-100 respirator and wear it if you have concerns about wildfire smoke in your area. Ensure your N-95 or P-100 respirator fits well. And follow the respirator’s instructions to use it correctly.
N-95 or P-100 respirators protect the lungs in ways paper “dust” and surgical masks, scarves, and bandanas cannot. They are readily available online and at various home repair and hardware stores.
4. Remain Indoors
Stay indoors any time local authorities advise you to do so. In these instances, close the windows and doors. You can run your air conditioner if it is extremely hot outside.
It can be dangerous to remain indoors if you do not have an air conditioner and are dealing with severe heat. In this scenario, seek shelter with a friend, relative, or neighbor. When the air quality improves, you can then return to your previous location.
5. Use an Air Purifier
Purchase an air purifier that offers California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification. This purifier meets the regulated ozone emission concentration limit. It also has been tested for electrical safety.
Furthermore, confirm your air purifier has a true high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter capable of removing particulates down to .3 microns in size.
It is beneficial to use a purifier that has carbon filters that eliminate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from wildfire smoke and ionization technology that quickly and easily purifies the air.
6. Take Advantage of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Consider HBOT to treat carbon monoxide poisoning following wildfire smoke inhalation. HBOT helps increase the lungs’ oxygen uptake. It promotes oxygen delivery to healthy or injured tissue in the body, too.
The results of HBOT vary. To date, HBOT has been used to treat wounds, vascular deficiencies, and other health issues. The therapy has even been shown to trigger the release of growth factors and stem cells that facilitate healing.
7. Evacuate the Area
Follow wildfire evacuation orders. Local officials can provide instructions about what to do during a wildfire. They will do everything in their power to keep you safe until a wildfire subsides, too.
If you need to evacuate during a wildfire, bring only essential items with you. Go where local officials instruct you to evacuate. And do what’s necessary to ensure you can safely exit the area.
8. Protect Your Health During Wildfire Cleanup
Wear an N-95 or P-100 respirator during wildfire cleanup. A wildfire can produce ash that can be inhaled and damage the lungs. Thanks to an N-95 or P-100 respiration, you can protect against ash inhalation.
Also, wear gloves, goggles, and other apparel and accessories as you clean up after a wildfire. This helps you protect your eyes and other parts of the body against ash.
Safeguard Your Health Against Wildfire Smoke
The 2021 California wildfire season has been devastating thus far. There is no telling when the season will end. Regardless, a wildfire can cause significant damage in a short period of time. And you need to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Those who take precautions to guard against wildfires can minimize their impact. They can protect themselves and others against wildfire smoke as well.
Be proactive to guard against wildfires and wildfire smoke. At the first sign of a wildfire, protect yourself and others against it. If a wildfire creates smoke, do what’s necessary to avoid extended smoke exposure and inhalation.
Lastly, remain diligent in your wildfire preparations. Plan ahead as much as you can, and you can reduce the risk of long-lasting harm from wildfires and wildfire smoke.