Wildfire Smoke and Your Health
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
How can I tell if the smoke is affecting me?
Smoke can cause:
- A scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Stinging eyes
- A runny nose
If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
People who have heart disease might experience:
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:
- Inability to breathe normally
- Cough with or without mucus
- Chest discomfort
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.
How do I know if I am at risk?
If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people.
Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.
How do I protect myself and my loved ones?
Limit your exposure to smoke. The following are ways to protect your health.
Pay attention to local air quality reports issued by the Clark County Department of Air Quality Management (DAQM). Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. DAQM provides reports about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI), which can be found on their website. Also pay attention to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
Refer to visibility guides if they are available. In the western part of the United States, some communities have guidelines to help people estimate AQI based on how far they can see. For information explaining visibility guides, go to the DAQM website.
If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce breathing problems. A HEPA filter may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air.
Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air. If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
Dust masks are not enough. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. For more information about effective masks, visit the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html.
For more information about your health, contact your doctor. For more general health and safety tips, visit the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control at www.cdc.gov. For tips for healthy living with asthma, visit www.gethealthyclarkcounty.org/chronic_disease/asthma.html.
Updated on: January 4, 2022