A Wildfire is Near Me – How Much is it Impacting my Health?
Wildfire season is upon us, which unfortunately could mean hazy, smoke-filled skies from nearby wildfires. Many people mistakenly think that if a wildfire isn’t raging right next door, they won’t be affected by the smoke in the air. They’re wrong. Hazardous smoke can travel many miles away.
The haze you see when a fire breaks out is actually ambient smoke particles and particulates from burning trees and other organic matter. It drifts through the air, hits our lungs, and can cause major problems. The small flecks of ash can get lodged in our eyes, nose and throat to cause symptoms like itchy eyes, sore throat, headaches and nausea. But the biggest health hazards are the fine particles of matter that are so small you can’t see them. That’s why it’s so important to take the necessary precautions to keep yourself, your friends and family safe during wildfire season.
For 19 years, the American Lung Association has analyzed data from official air quality monitors to compile the “State of the Air” report. The more you learn about the air you breathe, the more you can protect your health and take steps to make our air cleaner and healthier.
What’s the State of Your Air?
So, how can you tell if the air you’re breathing is affected by a nearby wildfire? Always check local news to stay up to date on a situation and regularly check the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Now website in order to see what areas are affected.
Those who live in areas near a wildfire should stay indoors to avoid breathing in smoke, ashes and other pollution. Many people depend on dust masks, but ordinary dust masks do not provide enough protection. The smaller and more dangerous particles can still pass through them. Special dust masks referred to as N95 or those with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters are required to filter out dangers particles from wildfire smoke. But make sure they fit properly. If worn incorrectly, these special masks will not protect you. If you suffer from lung disease, check with your doctor before you use one of these masks.
Since you will be staying indoors more, make sure to protect the air in your home by shutting doors, windows and fireplace dampers. Try to keep clean air circulating throughout the house with air conditioners or air cleaners. Air conditioners should be put on the recirculate setting to keep the machine from pulling outside air into the home. An air-cleaning device with a HEPA filter provides even more protection from soot and smoke. If you live in an area where wildfires often break out, consider investing in one of these.
If you must go outside, make sure to drive with the windows closed. Smoke can sting your eyes, making it more difficult to see and could impair your driving. Keep car vents closed as well, and only operate the air conditioner on the recirculate setting.
Try to let your common sense guide your actions. If it looks or smells smoky outside, don’t go for a run, mow the lawn, or let your kids play in the yard or the park. Make sure you pay attention to symptoms that indicate exposure: burning eyes, a runny nose, cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing. If you exhibit any of these, limit your exposure to the air and seek medical attention if necessary.
For more information on how wildfire smoke can affect you, call 1-800-LUNGUSA, or visit Lung.org.