If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires, it’s important that you understand how smoke from fires can affect your health. There are several wildfire smoke health effects to watch out for, and we’ll also give you several easy ways to combat smokey air in your home so you can live a happier and healthier life.
Smoke contains a mixture of fine particles from any organic matter that burns in the fire and gasses. It can cause your eyes to sting and water, cause chronic respiratory diseases to get worse, and irritate your respiratory system very quickly.
People Who are More At Risk
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 a 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.
The Effects of Forest Fires on Human Health
Now that you know who’s 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, cough, and possibly nausea from the smell of the smoke.
Long-term exposure to smoky air can cause more lasting effects like temporary changes in lung function and capacity, headaches, and a reduction in your alertness levels. Your lungs and respiratory tract are usually the hardest hit spots when it comes to smoke inhalation, and you may wonder how smoke fires affects the lungs.
The fine particles that are a direct result of wood burning can get into your respiratory tract and reach your lungs. You can easily start to feel like you’re short of breath or that your respiratory system is irritated. This is where conditions like asthma and COPD can get worse, and the effects can last for weeks after the initial exposure.
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.
Protecting Yourself From Smoke Inhalation
If you’re concerned about the levels of smoke in the air, there are several easy things you can do to protect yourself.
Limit Your Exposure
The most obvious thing to is to limit your exposure to the smoky air. You can do this by shutting your doors and windows and limiting the time you spend outdoors. If you’re a higher-risk person, this is extremely important because you don’t want to irritate your conditions further.
If you live in an area that has a lot of wildfires, it’s a good idea to invest in a cheap air purifier. Fire from smoke can make its way into your home and get trapped. The longer it stays trapped, the more smoke particles have an opportunity to enter your lungs.
Air purifiers work to filter the air and can remove up to 99% of airborne contaminants, including smoke particles. By closing your windows and running an air purifier you can ensure that the air you’re breathing inside is as clean as possible.
An air purifier can drastically reduce your risks from smoke fire exposure. Check out our detailed guide for more information on finding a top rated air purifier for smoke removal. It explains all you need to know about this device and what types of things to look for to meet your needs.
Turn on the AC
If you have a window or portable air conditioner, it’s a good idea to turn these on during heavy smoke days. These appliances help to circulate the air through your home by pulling hot air out of the home and dumping it outdoors. This air exchange process can provide a small amount of air filtration but not as good as an air purifier.
If you don’t own a window or portable AC unit, and live in an area that’s exposed to a lot of wildfire smoke, you may want to consider getting one. Aside from helping clear the air inside your home, these devices can also cut down on your monthly energy bill.
For help in this area, you can check out our guide on buying a window air conditioner or choosing a portable air conditioner for your home here.
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.