How to Protect your Health from Wildfire Smoke
Wildfires are becoming more frequent and more severe as the climate changes, resulting in poorer quality air that can last for weeks or more. This can result in short-term health effects and longer lasting health effects. Exposure to air pollution can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, and alter immune function. Reducing exposure to wildfire smoke is the best way to protect your health and those around you.
The Composition of Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gasses and particles that interact and change as they move away from the fire. The individual particles in wildfire smoke are very small, but they tend to stick together as they travel. Of all the pollutants in wildfire smoke, fine particulate matter poses the greatest risk to human health.
The microscopic soot particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, where they may cause inflammation and irritation. Volatile organic compounds and other gasses can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
Air quality impacts us all. However, some people are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke. These include pregnant people, infants and young children, elderly people, and those with conditions like asthma, heart disease or diabetes.
There are some common signs people may experience when exposed to wildfire smoke:
- Sore throat
- Irritated eyes
- Runny nose
- Mild cough
- Increased phlegm
Seek medical care right away if someone has these symptoms during smoky conditions:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe cough
- Feeling Dizzy
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
- Plan ahead & stay informed. Check the latest local air quality readings and advisories regularly.
- Reduce Exposure. Reduce outdoor physical activities and stay indoors when smoke is heavy.
- Hydrate. Drink Plenty of water.
- Cool and Filter. Filter indoor air using portable HEPA air filters. Keep windows and doors closed during high smoke times. On hot days, keep the temperature indoors at a comfortable level. Extreme heat can be dangerous to your health. Use energy efficient air conditioners along with portable air cleaners to create cool spaces with cleaner air.
- Check-In. Pay attention to how you feel and watch for signs of smoke effects in those around you.
- Relocate. Go to local libraries, community centers, or other public spaces that have central air conditioning and cleaner air.
The Air Quality Index Tool
The Air Quality Index (AQHI) is a tool designed to help people understand how air quality can affect their health. It can be used to help protect themselves when the air quality is poor. The index is based on measurements of fine particulate matter and other pollutants in the air, and is reported across the province.
You can use the AQHI to plan activities, especially if you or others are more sensitive to impacts of poor air quality. If the AQHI is moderate to high in your region, you can take protective actions for yourself and others.
Have a Personal Care Plan
Wildfire smoke can cause adverse reactions in all people – no matter their general health. That’s why taking precautions is important.
People with pre-existing medical conditions should take extra precautions and should keep their rescue medications with them at all times.
Activate your personal care plan if you have asthma or other chronic illnesses. If you do not have a personal care plan for air quality events, talk to your pharmacist or other health care provider.
If you run out of your inhalers or other required medications, our pharmacists can help by assessing your condition and prescribing a refill if appropriate. If you have any questions, we are happy to help answer them.