Wildfire season is something that happens every year and has a huge impact on thousands of individuals.
If you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires, it’s important that you know how to stay safe and protect your lungs from the smoke and ash.
Here are several easy ways for you and your family to stay safe this year.
1. Monitor Local Smoke Warnings
One of the easiest things you can do is monitor your local air quality and pay attention to any smoke warnings on the local news.
Even if your property is a few hundred miles away from the actual fire, the smoke can easily travel in your direction and cause your local air quality to deteriorate.
Be sure that you check AirNow.gov. This site provides free air quality monitoring each day.
2. Be Aware of Particles in the Air
With smoke comes particles.
These airborne particles come from the wood and surrounding environment that are being burned by a wildfire.
Many people think that if they can’t see smoke, then they are safe. This simply isn’t true. Only a thick cluster of smoke particles can be seen by the naked eye.
Smoke particles that have dispersed are microscopic and can’t ben seen. What’s worse is that these tiny particles can easily be breathed into your lung tissue and other organs.
Wildfire smoke causes all kinds of severe health problems, and it’s best to stay indoors and keep your windows shut to avoid breathing these contaminants in.
3. Use an Air Purifier to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
When the outside air quality is poor, you want your indoor air quality to be as clean as possible.
An easy way to do this is to purchase an air purifier and let it run in the rooms you that use the most.
Air purifiers are the only officially designed device to remove smoke particles from the air around you. They’re also excellent at eliminating other pollutants like dust, and allergens from your home’s indoor air and are up to 99.97% effective at cleaning the air you breathe.
These devices work by circulating the air inside a room through a series of filters. Bad particles like smoke get trapped, and clean air is pushed back into the room for you to breathe. Here are detailed reviews of the best air purifiers for wildfire smoke.
4. Use an Air Conditioner to Circulate the Air
Although an air conditioner is not made to purify the air, the design does offer some air filtering qualities.
All air conditioners use a filter to trap dust and other particles from getting into the system and damaging it. Therefore, if you run this system when wildfire smoke is present outdoors, it can eliminate some of the particles that may have traveled inside your home.
As long as you keep your filters clean, it should help to reduce the amount of smoke particle matter in the air, but it really is no match for a dedicated air purifier.
If you can’t afford an air purifier right now or the electricity costs for running your home air conditioning system is a concern, you can always invest in a portable air conditioner or window air conditioner. These inexpensive products don’t cost much to run and are a very affordable option for keeping your home cool while on a budget.
Window and portable air conditioners also include air filters, so they can help lower the number of smoke particles in your home when they’re running.
5. Consider Having a Particle Respirator Mask on Hand
You may think that slapping on a paper mask or a surgical mask is enough to protect you from smoke inhalation. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and they aren’t an effective way to filter out particles in the air.
If you’re in a highly contaminated area due to wildfire smoke, and you need to be outdoors a lot, it’s best to get a particle respirator mask or an N95 respirator. This device fits tightly to your face and it can filter out up to 95% of particles as small as 0.03 microns.
6. Keep Your Home Airtight
You might be tempted to open the windows and let the air filter through your home, but this is a fast way to lower the quality of your indoor air.
This is especially true if you’re located in or near (100 miles or less) a burning wildfire.
To stay safe, keep your windows shut and limit the number of times you have to open or close outside access doors. As we mentioned above, an air purifier can help filter out any smoke particles that do make there way inside.
Small steps like this can do a lot to help improve your indoor air quality.
7. Cleanup Carefully
If your property or home was directly affected by a wildfire, you might be impatient to get cleaning when it’s over.
However, you need to be very careful.
Debris can smolder for a few days after the fire in the correct conditions and still release airborne pollutants when you move them. Wear protective clothing, masks or respirators, and make sure the debris have fully died out.
8. Have an Escape Route
No one wants to imagine that a wildfire will happen in their area, but it’s important to have an escape plan and route in place just in case it does occur.
You can check your state’s emergency services office for information on shelters, insurance, and transportation options. If you have pets, have a plan in place to move them as well, and it’s a good idea to ask your local vet’s office if they have safe accommodations to shelter them temporarily.
9. Set up an Emergency Kit
Having an emergency kit on hand is another good idea when it comes to being prepared for a wildfire or disaster.
You want at least three days’ worth of food and water, first aid supplies, toiletries, batteries, flashlights, and copies of any important paperwork. If you can, pack a respirator or two as well so you can keep your lungs healthy.
10. Leave the Area
Finally, one of the safest ways how to protect yourself from smoke inhalation is to leave the area surrounding the wildfire.
As we mentioned before, smoke can travel hundreds of miles. However, even getting a few hours away can drastically improve your indoor and outside air quality.
If you do leave the area, make sure to monitor the local news and watch for the air quality to improve. Once it does, you can consider going back to your home.
People Who are More At Risk
As you can see, the tips outlined above are easy ways to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of smoke inhalation. Being prepared with an air purifier or respirator mask, as well as making an escape plan and having an emergency kit set up ahead of time are very important.
If you take those small steps, you’ll be able to stay healthy during wildfire season.
Unfortunately, wildfire smoke side effects can affect anyone who has prolonged exposure, but there are certain people who will find themselves being more at risk in the event of a fire.
- Heart or Lung Condition – A person who has cardiovascular issues or lung problems like congestive heart failure, COPD, angina, asthma, or ischemic heart disease falls into this higher risk category.
- Older People – Older adults are at a greater risk for negative effects from breathing in smoke. They’re more prone to having heart or lung issues, and this factors into how high-risk they are.
- Children – Children are also at high risk for negative consequences with smoke inhalation due to their developing respiratory systems. They tend to breathe in more air because their bodies are smaller, and they usually spend more time outdoors.
- People with Diabetes – People who have diabetes usually have some underlying heart or respiratory problem, and this can be complicated by breathing in smoke.
- Pregnant Women – Pregnant women are another group that is susceptible to smoke inhalation, and there could be complications for both the mother and the baby. It’s a good idea to have a dedicated baby air purifier in the nursery.
The Effects of Forest Fires on Human Health
Now that you know who is more at risk, you have to know what you’re at risk for, and what factors into your risk levels.
Generally, how much you’re affected by breathing in smoke depends on how long you’re exposed to it, how much your breath in, and how high the smoke concentration is where you are.
Any preexisting conditions like we listed above also play a vital role in the overall result.
You can immediately start seeing and feeling the effects of smoke exposure, and these effects can last anywhere from hours to weeks. Some of the first things you’ll notice include:
- Stinging or burning eyes
- Scratchy throat
- A cough
- Nausea from the smell of the smoke
Long-term exposure to smoky air can cause more lasting effects such as:
- Temporary changes in lung function and capacity
- A reduction in your alertness levels
Your lungs and respiratory tract are usually the hardest hit spots when it comes to smoke inhalation. These particles can even damage or kill cells in the lungs, and this can lead to a compromised immune system. People will be more prone to getting sick and having respiratory issues if they have prolonged exposure to smoke and smoky conditions.
When to See a Medical Professional
Although it will be up to you to decide if an when you seek medical help, there are a few warning signs you want to pay attention to. If you have a cough that won’t go away or gets worse, worsening shortness of breath, fatigue, unusual weakness, or chest pain and tightness, it’s a good idea to seek medical help. It’s always better to be safe when it comes to your health than to be sorry.
Smoke inhalation has several serious side effects, and some people are at a higher risk of having complications than others. If you’ve been exposed to smoke, monitor your health and make a doctor appointment if you see signs that your condition is getting worse instead of better.