Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Wildfire smoke can cause or worsen health problems.


Know the Symptoms

What health problems can smoke cause?
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation (burning eyes and runny nose)
  • Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and headache
  • Aggravation of existing lung, heart and circulatory conditions, including asthma and angina

Who is especially sensitive to smoke? Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone, even healthy people. People most likely to have health problems from breathing smoke include:
  • People with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including bronchitis and emphysema.
  • People with respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, colds, or flu.
  • People with existing heart or circulatory problems, such as dysrhythmias, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and angina.
  • People with a prior history of heart attack or stroke.
  • Infants and children under 18 because their lungs and airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.
  • Older adults (over age 65) because they are more likely to have unrecognized heart or lung diseases.
  • Pregnant women because both the mother and fetus are at increased risk of health effects.
  • People who smoke because they are more likely to already have lower lung function and lung diseases.
  • People with diabetes because they are more likely to have an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from outdoor smoke?
  • Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air.
  • If you have asthma or other lung diseases, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. Call your health care provider if your symptoms worsen.
  • Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Take the following steps when indoors:   
    • Keep windows and doors closed. Track the outside air quality and open your windows for fresh air when the air quality improves. Pay attention to the heat indoors. Close curtains to reduce heat gain during the hottest part of the day. Use fans to circulate the air.
    • Run an air conditioner, set it to re-circulate and close the fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter regularly.
    • Use an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution, this will 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 use an air cleaner that produces ozone. See California’s air cleaning devices for the home fact sheet (PDF).
    • Don’t add to indoor pollution. Don’t smoke. Don’t use food broilers, candles, incense, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Don’t vacuum unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home.
    • Consider leaving the area if the air quality is poor and it's not possible to keep indoor air clean, especially if you or those you are caring for are having health problems or are in a sensitive group.
    • For more information about keeping indoor air free of smoke: Improving Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality during Wildfire Smoke Events (PDF).


  1. What are the long term effects of inhaling smoke? Even if only in moderation

    1. Please check out the post from 8/22/18 about long-term effects for more on this topic.

  2. My understanding is that the smallest particulates are the ones most damaging to lungs and heart.

    (1) are these most damaging particulates 2.5pm and above or are they under 2.5pm?

    (2) will an N95 face mask remove these smallest particulates or is a P100 mask required for this purpose?

    (3) will consumer air cleaners (e.g. Winix and Honeywell with heppa and carbon filters) remove the smallest of these particulates or do they allow the smallest or some percent of the smallest to pass through?

    (4) assuming the use of a recirculating AC and/or consumer air cleaner is it still adviseable to use a P95 or N95 mask INdoors?

    Answers to these specific questions would enabled informed and effective measures to be taken

    1. 1) Particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 micrograms (PM2.5) generally cause more health effects than particles larger than PM10. This is mainly because they can be inhaled deeper in the respiratory tract where they have more opportunities to adversely impact health.

      2) NIOSH-certified N95 or P100 face masks would both help reduce particle exposure if worn properly with good fit. We advertise these and N100s because they are the most commonly available, but other disposable masks would also be appropriate. NIOSH-certified face masks designated N, P or R with the number 95 or higher (e.g. N95, N100, P95, P100, R95 or R100) would also work well for particle reduction. Unfortunately, none of these reduce exposure to gases present in smoke. The N, R, P indication has to do with the resistance to oil, and any of these are fine for wildfire smoke. The number indicates the filtration efficiency, where 95 means it is designed to filter out 95% of airborne particles. The catch is that you only get that high of filtration with good fit, and you need a fit test to ensure that. In addition: they aren’t recommended for children, they don’t work as well on people with beards, and people with heart and lung conditions should consult a healthcare provider before using. Face masks are best as a short-term solution when you have to be outdoors in high smoke levels. More info here: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf

      3) There are several air cleaners with HEPA filters that are effective in reducing particle levels indoors. The main considerations in selecting an air cleaner to reduce wildfire smoke indoors:
      • It needs a HEPA filter to remove the small particles in wildfire smoke.
      • It should not be the kind that generates ozone, as this is bad for your health.
      • It should have capacity for the room that you want to put it in, which should be where you spend the most time. The portable ones are usually just able to clean the air in a single room, where you would close the windows and doors as possible.
      • You also might want to consider the noise level and energy efficiency.
      • Check here for more info: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/guide_to_air_cleaners_in_the_home_2nd_edition.pdf
      • Check here for air cleaners that have been certified by CA Air Resources Board: https://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/aircleaners/certified.htm

      4) Many people find that it is not comfortable to wear a NIOSH-certified N95, P95, or other appropriate mask as indicated above for very long if they are worn properly. This is because they tend to get hot and they add some resistance to breathing. If it is not uncomfortable or causing breathing problems, then it can be OK to wear one indoors, but this will not work for everyone. If it is not possible to keep the air clean and cool enough indoors with windows closed, use of an air cleaner with a HEPA filter and an AC on recirculate, consider going to another area with cool, clean air--like the mall, library, a friend or relative’s place, or a different location away from the smoke.

  3. A couple other things you can deo:
    Shut off kitchen and bath exhaust fans as soon as they have done their job
    Whole house fans have been mandated in rece3nt years to improve air quality in modern tightly insulated houses. Under current conditions these need to be turned off.

  4. Okay... this is the best answer to my own question: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/OEPR_Fire-and-smoke-FAQ.pdf

    "smallest particles" = "most damaging to lung" = particles UNDER 2.5 microns. So any mask or air cleaner has to work on particles 2.5 microns and under. As for masks, the above links states:

    "Some masks (technically called respirators, but they look more like paper masks) are good enough to filter out 95% of the particulate that is 0.3 microns and larger. Smoke particulate averages about 0.3 microns, so these masks will filter out a significant portion of the smoke if they are properly fit to the wearer’s face."


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