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How Smoke From Wildfires Affects Your Health

Last Updated on: June 16, 2022

In 2021 California experienced a series of wildfires which devastated over 2 million acres, destroying buildings, businesses, forests, and lives. (1) The smoke from these fires spread across the United States and beyond. The smell of smoke was present in many other states and it affected millions of people as they breathed in the smoke and the harmful particles it carried.

What is in Smoke

Wildfire smoke is not simply just smoke. The smoke contains tiny particles and toxins which mix in and make the smoke far more dangerous than your average campfire.

Think about everything that  burns in  wildfires. Not only trees and other plants, but as buildings are lost, the fire burns common household items such as cleaning supplies, gasoline, rubber, plastics, and melts different forms of metal. All of these substances then are mixed in with the smoke. They permeate through the air with winds carrying them many miles away from where they originated.

During the Camp Fire of 2018 which originated in California, levels of particles known as PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller) which normally are only around 9 micrograms per meters cubed topped 200. One researcher compared breathing in those levels of smoke to smoking 8-10 cigarettes. (2

Obviously breathing thick wildfire smoke can severely affect the lungs. Inhaling the smoke can send the particles into our lungs which then can spread into the bloodstream and become circulated throughout the body. This just accelerates and amplifies the harm wildfire smoke can cause in a person.

Who is Higher Risk?

There are various people who are more vulnerable to the negative health effects of wildfire smoke. (3)

  1. Infants and children. Their lungs are still growing and developing, putting them more at risk to develop lung related issues (often asthma) while breathing in smoke.
  2. Pregnant women. Breathing in high amounts of smoke can potentially harm the growing fetus.
  3. Those with lung diseases. Their lungs are already compromised. Breathing in smoke and its harmful particles will only worsen their conditions.
  4. Those with asthma. They have lungs which do not fare well with smoky air conditions. 
  5. Those with heart disease. Heart diseases are directly affected by the state of the lungs.
  6. Those with diabetes. Diabetics are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular diseases which could become aggravated by the smoke.
  7. The elderly. Age increases the risk of developing heart and or lung diseases. 
  8. People recovering from Covid-19. Many people who have had Covid-19 experience severe coughs and shortness of breath. In their compromised state, they could feel the effects of wildfire smoke more poignantly.

Those who are higher risk need to take extra precautions to avoid the dangers associated with wildfire smoke to keep themselves safe.

The Health Effects

Though those who are at higher risk may experience more serious side effects, there are common side effects associated with wildfire smoke. (4) Your lungs do not want to let harmful particles inside, so your body will do whatever it takes to keep them out. This can cause:

  1. Cough
  2. Burning eyes
  3. Runny Nose
  4. Phlegm buildup
  5. Wheezing
  6. Difficulty breathing
  7. Headaches
  8. Chest pain
  9. Asthma attacks 
  10. Fast heartbeats
  11. Exhaustion

Though these side effects are common, if they become serious or unbearable, a person should seek help from medical professionals immediately. They may have an underlying condition which the smoke has aggravated.

How to Protect Yourself

Though we cannot avoid the smoke as it descends around our homes and workplaces, there are ways in which we can combat the effects of smoke and protect our lungs. (5, 6)

  1. Avoid outdoor activities. Wait to mow the lawn until the skies clear. Swap an outdoor run for an indoor workout routine. Keep kids indoors during playtime.
  2. Avoid burning anything in your home. Do not burn candles while conditions outside are smoky. Cook as little as possible. Do not smoke.
  3. Seal your home and car. Keep windows closed and airtight. In the car, keep air conditioning on the recirculate setting.
  4. Use a mask. Simple paper or cloth masks will not filter out all of the harmful particles found in smoke. Particulate masks such as N-95 or P-100 respirators will protect you if used correctly.
  5. Purify the air. Use high quality air filters and keep the air conditioning on. Replace air filters often. If you cannot purify the air in every room, then just focus on keeping one room with purified air so you have a safe space to breathe in.
  6. Avoid vacuuming. Vacuums can stir up particles, sending them into the air and spreading them around the house.
  7. Check the air quality in your area before planning outdoor activities. (7)
  8. Most importantly: stay hydrated. Drink extra water when exposed to smoke. Smoke can damage the body, but maintaining a high level of hydration will keep body systems moist, strong, and it will flush out harmful toxins which accumulate. Choose Synergy Science™ hydrogen water machines because hydrogen water fights off inflammation in the body. It will help your lungs recover faster when they become irritated and inflamed from smoke particles.

Taking precautions will protect you and others in your household. You will avoid the negative health effects those who spend more time exposed to smoke are experiencing.

The Bottom Line:

Preventing the negative health effects of smoke is extremely important for those who want to stay as safe as possible. As we approach wildfire season take extra care.

It does not matter if you are living near a fire or far away in a different state. Millions of people can be affected by smoky air. Do not simply understand what the smoke carries, learn how to protect yourself from it. Doing so will prevent developing harmful health effects and give you the peace of mind of knowing you are safe.

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