WildfiresWildfires, including grassland fires and forest fires, are an ongoing concern where there is dry, hot weather.
During a wildfire, people throughout the surrounding area may suffer the effects of the smoke. Talk with your doctor about how to prepare for this smoke, especially if you or someone in the family fits into one of these categories: works outdoors; is under age 18 or over age 65; or has asthma, COPD or other lung diseases, chronic heart disease, or diabetes. Monitor your breathing and exposure to the smoke.
If problems develop, call your physician immediately.
With wildfires becoming more prevalent, it's important to protect yourself against the health risks of wildfire smoke.
Protecting Lung Health During Wildfires
Preparation is key to protecting yourself and your family, especially if you live where wildfire risk is high. Here are some important ways you can plan for before, during and after a wildfire.
Determine several different routes you can take in a hurry to leave your area. Create a plan for pets and livestock. Share your plan with close family and friends.
Emergency supplies, such as water, food, a first aid kit, necessary medications and a respirator are among the items to include.
If you do not need to evacuate, prepare to keep wildfire smoke outside of at least one room of your home where you can close off outside air and set up a portable air cleaner. Watch video.
Sign up to receive local emergency alerts. Track fires near you on AirNow Fires: Current Conditions.
10 Tips to Prepare for a Natural Disaster
Now is the time to create an emergency plan to share with your healthcare providers, family and friends.
People living close to the fire-stricken areas should remain indoors, unless prompted by local officials to evacuate, and avoid breathing smoke, ashes and other pollution in the area.
Ordinary dust masks, designed to filter out large particles, and cloth facial coverings will not help. They still allow the more dangerous smaller particles to pass through. Special, more expensive dust masks with an N-95 or N-100 filter will filter out the damaging fine particles, but may not fit properly, are not made for children and are difficult for people with lung disease to use.
These masks can make it more difficult for anyone to breathe and should only be used if you must go outside.
Extra precaution should be taken for children, who are more susceptible to smoke. Their lungs are still developing and they breathe in more air (and consequently more pollution) for their size than adults. N-95 masks should not be used for children because they will likely not fit properly.
When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed, and operate on "recirculate" setting, including when using air conditioning.
Stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut and preferably with clean air circulating through air conditioners and air cleaners. Use air conditioners on the recirculation setting to keep from pulling outside air into the room. Air cleaning devices that have HEPA filters can provide added protection from the soot and smoke.
Listen to your local or state officials and protect yourself and your family.
If you live close to or in the surrounding area, don't exercise outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
Residents and volunteers should use caution during clean-up because the process involves ashes and other sources of pollution.
People with lung or heart problems should avoid clean-up activities and areas where dust or soot is present.
Thoroughly wet dusty and sooty area prior to clean-up. This will help to reduce the amount of particles becoming airborne.
Wear an appropriate mask during clean-up, a HEPA-filtered one or an N-95.
If exposure to asbestos or other hazardous materials is suspected, do not disturb the area. Dust masks do not protect against asbestos.
If You Have Lung Disease, Chronic Heart Disease or Diabetes
People with asthma or other lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes should check with their physician regarding any changes in medication that may be needed to cope with the smoky conditions.
Higher levels of smoke in some areas can make breathing more difficult. If you are experiencing symptoms, please try to contact your physician. If you cannot, asthma patients can follow the asthma action plan and COPD patients can follow the COPD action plan developed with their physician. Use your peak flow meter if prescribed. Do not hesitate to take your medication, and avail yourself of the full spectrum of medications your doctor has prescribed to you.
People using oxygen should not adjust their levels of intake before consulting a physician. (Call your doctor BEFORE you take any action.)
If symptoms are not relieved by the usual medicines, seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for: wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. If you have any concerns or questions please contact your physician.
If you develop a persistent cough or difficult or painful breathing, call your physician. The first symptoms can appear as late as 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Smoke can remain in areas for many days after the fires have ended.
- American Lung Association Fact Sheets
- Department of Homeland Security
- Ready.gov: Wildfires
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- DisasterAssistance.gov: Recovery help to receive disaster assistance
- For Health Professionals:
- Animation videos: Tips To Protect Lung Health During Wildfires