CHICAGO | July 23, 2021
Wildfire smoke coming primarily from Canada and the Western United States has continued to stretch across the continent this week, filling the skies with a thick haze and creating unhealthy air quality conditions in localities throughout the nation. The American Lung Association warns that such smoke poses potentially lethal health hazards to people, especially those with respiratory issues.
Residents with conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic heart disease should take extra precautions during this time and call their physician immediately if problems develop. Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause serious health problems ranging from pneumonia and asthma attacks to cardiovascular harm. Most vulnerable to smoke exposure are children and teens, pregnant women, outside workers, the elderly and anyone with existing respiratory problems or heart disease.
"The sheer scope of the wildfire smoke has created air quality conditions that in some places put even healthy individuals without lung disease at risk,” said American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer, Albert Rizzo, M.D., FACP. “It’s important that residents with lung health issues are aware of the dangers, take precautions and stay indoors with closed doors and windows when air quality becomes unhealthy.”
Protecting lung health should be part of a wildfire emergency plan. As general recommendations:
- Monitor your air quality forecast: Media outlets report on local air quality conditions year-round, or you can go to EPA’s Air Now website. Keeping track of the current air quality information can help you know when to take steps to protect yourself from unhealthy levels of air pollution from wildfires and other sources.
- Stay indoors: People living close to the fire-stricken areas should remain indoors, unless prompted by local officials to evacuate. All residents living in air quality impacted areas should avoid breathing smoke, ashes and other pollution.
- Don't exercise outside: If you live close to or in the affected areas, don't exercise outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
- Don't count on a dust mask: Ordinary dust masks, designed to filter out large particles, and cloth facial coverings will not sufficiently protect your lungs. Use a N-95 or P-100 respirator, designed to filter out damaging fine particles. These masks must be fitted properly and can make it more difficult to breathe and should only be used if you must go outside. If you have lung disease, consult with your doctor before using a N95 mask.
- Take precautions for kids: Extra precautions 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) than adults. N-95 masks should not be used for children because they will likely not fit properly.
- Roll up your car windows: When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed, and operate on "recirculate" setting, including when using air conditioning.
- Protect the air in your home: 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. Place damp towels under the doors and other places where the outside air may leak in.
- Create a clean room in your home: 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. Learn how to create a clean room.
- Prepare to evacuate if directed: Listen closely to your local or state officials and act when ordered to protect yourself and your family. In advance, prepare any medications, medical devices, emergency contact information and a list of prescriptions to take with you.
- If you have lung disease, chronic heart disease or diabetes: Pay close attention to any changes in your condition or new symptoms and check in with your doctor regarding any changes in medication that may be needed during the smoky conditions.
For a complete list of recommendations to protect lung health during wildfires, see this handy Wildfire Preparedness Flyer. This information is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Russian.
Further information on respiratory health during wildfires can be found at Lung.org/wildfires and a dedicated Spanish language page at Lung.org/incendiosforestales.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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