Monday, August 11, 2014

8/11/2014 Reminder about Smoke and Health on a smoky morning.

The Washington Department of Health provides the following information about wildfire smoke:

Permanent links to this information are available on the SMOKE AND HEALTH tab.

Wildfire Smoke


Why is wildfire smoke bad for me?

Smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles (particulate) released when things burn. In addition to burning your eyes, these fine particles and gases can be inhaled deep into your lungs. This makes it harder to breathe and may worsen other chronic health conditions such as asthma or heart disease.
Fortunately, most people who are exposed to smoke will not have lasting health problems. How much and how long you are exposed to the smoke, as well as your age and health status, helps determine whether or not you will experience smoke-related health problems. If you are experiencing serious medical problems for any reason, seek medical treatment immediately.

What chemicals are in smoke from wildfires?

Wildfire smoke contains carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and toxic gas. Firefighters working near the fire are at greatest risk for high doses of carbon monoxide. Areas even a few hundred yards downwind of the fire where there are high particulate smoke levels typically don’t have high levels of carbon monoxide. Signs of high carbon monoxide levels in the blood include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and decreased mental functioning.
Wildfire smoke contains other chemicals, many of which cause irritation to eyes, noses, and throats. Find out what's in wood smoke in Ecology's How Wood Smoke Harms Your Health (PDF).

What's the outdoor air quality in my community?

The Washington Air Quality Advisory (PDF) scale is an excellent tool for gauging the quality of the air in your community. The air quality advisory index translates pollution measurements into six health categories ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous.” Check your local outdoor air quality at:
The Department of Ecology and its partners monitor outdoor air pollution at over 70 locations in 27 counties throughout the state. The air pollutants most commonly measured in Washington are fine particulate matter and ozone. Monitors are typically placed in regions where higher levels of air pollution occur. Sometimes temporary monitoring stations are placed in areas during emergency events such as wildfires.

Who is most affected by the smoke?

Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone, even healthy people. But the people who are most likely to be affected by smoke include:
  • Those with heart or lung disease such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or asthma, or who have had a prior heart attack, are at a higher risk of having health problems.
  • Older adults. Older adults may have unrecognized heart or lung disease.
  • Children. Children’s lungs and airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.
  • Pregnant women. Pregnant women also breathe in more air per pound of body weight than others.
  • Smokers. Smokers already have lower lung function or lung disease, and breathing smoke can make this condition worse.
  • Individuals with respiratory infections like colds or flu.
  • People who are diabetic or who have had a stroke.

How can I tell if smoke is affecting me or my family?

  • Smoke can cause coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and runny nose.
  • If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
  • People who have heart disease might experience chest pain, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
  • Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD, or respiratory allergies. They may experience the following symptoms: inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
When smoke levels are high, even healthy people may experience symptoms or health problems. Contact your health care provider if you have heart or lung problems when around smoke. Dial 911 for emergency assistance if symptoms are serious. 

What can I do to protect myself and my family from the smoke?

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings for your community.
  • Pay attention to public health messages from your local public health agency.
  • Avoid physical exertion if smoke is in the air.
  • If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. If there is no air conditioning and it is too hot to keep windows and doors closed, consider leaving the area.
  • Run an air conditioner if you have one but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the unit set to re-circulate. Change the filter regularly.
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution. A HEPA filter may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. A HEPA filter with charcoal will help remove some of the gases from the smoke.
  • Don’t add to indoor pollution. Don’t use candles, fireplaces or gas stoves. Don’t vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Don’t smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
  • If you have asthma or other lung disease, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your health care provider if your symptoms worsen.

If I’m pregnant, should I take more precautions?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have specific questions. In general, pregnant women should avoid or limit exposure to wildfire smoke by limiting heavy exertion and time spent outdoors. Pregnant women should remember that they are also breathing for their developing babies. Consult your healthcare provider if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeat or other symptoms.

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