Tips for Staying Healthy During Wildfire Season

Tips for Staying Healthy During Wildfire Season

Tips for Staying Healthy During Wildfire Season

A dry summer and heavy winds are making this another year of widespread wildfires. Wildfires can do a lot of damage, including to your health. And people with certain health conditions could experience more serious health threats.

Wildfires can threaten your immediate safety if you are in an active fire and evacuation area. Smoke from wildfires often carries toxic irritants that can trigger asthma attacks and lung health problems. Winds spread the toxic smoke across the country.

Exposure can cause chest pain, a fast heartbeat, wheezing, and an asthma attack, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon (CDC). Besides coughing and trouble breathing, many people have symptoms similar to those caused by a sinus infection or allergies. Headaches, sore throat, itchy eyes, a runny nose and feeling tired are common.

The elderly, pregnant women, children and people with chronic heart and lung diseases are at higher risk. So are individuals who work outdoors. Talk with your doctor about how to prepare for the smoke if you are at risk.

Protect Your Lung Health

As wildfires create more and more smoke, it’s important to take simple steps to reduce exposure to smoke and ash particle pollution:

  • Avoid prolonged outdoor exposure. Hiking, camping and outdoor sports may need to wait. Check air quality reports before you leave home. Even better, stay indoors.
  • Change your clothes if you’ve been outside. Smoke and fire particles can cling to your clothing.
  • Flush red, irritated eyes with water. Wipe face and eyelashes with a wet cloth.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice and take prescribed medicines if you have asthma or other lung diseases.
  • Seek emergency care for children and the elderly if they have difficulty breathing or exhibit a change in their level of consciousness.

Keeping your home air quality safe is important:

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports and public health warnings.
  • Make sure your home air system uses HEPA filters. A fan with a HEPA filter pulls the air in and pushes it out while filtering even the smallest pieces of ash out of the air. If possible, close the fresh-air intake so you are recycling filtered air.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. Use damp towels under doors and other places where outside air may come in.
  • If your home doesn’t have an air conditioner, seek shelter elsewhere when it gets too hot to keep your house closed up tight. You can visit the public library or spend a few hours at an indoor mall.
  • Don’t smoke, burn candles or use gas burners. They only add to irritants already in the air.
  • Limit the use of cleaning supplies that give off fumes and try not to vacuum often. Instead, use wet cloths and mops to capture the dust on floors and furniture.
  • If you must get out, keep the windows closed and air vents off in the car.

If you have chronic lung health issues, the American Lung Association leaving site icon encourages you to check in with your doctor before you make any changes to your care plan. Your doctor will want to consider changes to your medicine, mask or oxygen use based on the air quality in your area and how you are feeling.

Sources: Wildfires, leaving site icon American Lung Association, 2021;  How Wildfire Smoke Affects Your Body, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2024

Originally published 8/26/2020; Revised 2021, 2023