For additional information visit the WA DOH Smoke From Fires Webpage (Información en Español). 

Health Impacts

Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause health problems that range from minor to severe. Some symptoms include:
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation (burning eyes and runny nose)
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache and coughing
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Aggravation of existing conditions, particularly heart and lung diseases
    • Watch for symptoms like asthma attacks, chest pain, or irregular heartbeat
  • Impacts to mental well being

Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone. There are groups of people with increased risk of severe health impacts, including:
  • People with health conditions:
    • Lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD
    • Heart diseases
    • Respiratory illnesses
    • Diabetes
  • People 18 and younger or older than 65
  • Pregnant people
  • Outdoor workers
  • People of color 
  • Tribal and indigenous people 
  • People with low income

How to protect you and your family's health from wildfire smoke

  • Stay updated on current and forecasted air quality: 
    • Check wildfire and smoke locations on the other tabs of this blog.
  • Limit duration and intensity of outdoor physical activity.
  • Stay indoors with cleaner indoor air:
    • Close windows and doors unless it is too hot to maintain safe temperatures.
    • Filter indoor air through an HVAC system, and a HEPA portable air cleaner or DIY box fan filter. See below.
      • Buy necessary materials early. Supplies will sell quickly once smoke hits. 
    • Don’t add to indoor pollution. 
      • Avoid smoking, burning candles or incense, spraying aerosols, diffusing essential oils, broiling or frying foods, sweeping, and vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).
    • Set HVAC systems to re-circulate mode or close the outdoor/fresh air intake.
    • If you must be outside for a limited duration, consider wearing a properly fitted NIOSH-approved particulate respirator, such as an N95 mask. See below.
  • If unable to maintain cleaner air at home, go elsewhere for cleaner air such as a friend’s place, public space, or unimpacted area.
  • It can be a challenge to keep smoke out when it’s hot, especially without an air conditioner or central cooling system. Pay attention to rising temperatures, as heat-related illness can occur quickly and can be life threatening. 
    • Close windows and curtains or shades during the day and use portable fans. 
    • Stay hydrated, especially with water. Avoid sugary or alcoholic drinks since these can be dehydrating. 
    • Minimize use of your stove and oven during the hottest part of the day. 
    • Cool off by taking a cool shower or bath. Be mindful of extreme temperature changes, which can cause life-threatening issues. 
    • Use ice packs or put your feet in cool water. Apply wet rags on the back of your neck or mist yourself with water while sitting near a fan. 
    • Track air quality and open windows when the air quality improves.
    • Open windows when it is cooler outside than inside, and, if possible, take steps to filter indoor air. See below.
    • For information about preventing heat-related illness, follow DOH's Hot Weather Safety Guidance or CDC's Preventing Heat-Related Illness.
    • For more information, see Cooling Indoor Spaces Without Air Conditioning (PDF).
    • To check your area's current and forecasted heat risk and find suggested precautions, see CDC's Heat Risk.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) reports the level of air quality and health concerns across six color-coded categories. The AQI map is shown at the top of this page. This table lists what you should do at each AQI category. 

Filtering indoor air in your home

For your home, consider one of three options:

1. If you have an HVAC system, set it to recirculate and close the fresh air intake while there is bad air quality. Increase the filtration to a MERV 13 rated filter, or the highest rated filter your system will handle. Select a filter with the deepest folds in the filter material your system can accommodate. Consult your HVAC manual or speak with an HVAC professional before making improvements and change the filter when dirty or when indicated in your HVAC manual.  
2. Use a HEPA portable air cleaner. Choose a portable air cleaner that is:
    • Filter only - no ionic, ozone, or UV technologies.
    • A real HEPA filter. 
    • The right size for your room. 
    • Not too loud.
See DOH guidance on selecting portable air cleaners for additional information. 

3. Make your own box fan filter using a standard box fan (2012 or newer) and a filter of the same dimensions with a MERV 13 rating. Testing by UL and EPA found no safety concerns, but box fans are not designed to operate with a filter attached, and effectiveness varies with the design.

Using a mask for wildfire smoke

Protecting children and students from wildfire smoke

  • Children and youth are more sensitive to health effects from breathing in smoke because they breathe in more air than adults for their body weight and their respiratory systems are still developing. 
  • The Washington Children and Youth Activities Guide (PDF), provides recommendations to protect children and youth from PM2.5 (the main component in wildfire smoke). It can be applied to school, childcare, athletic practices and games, before and after school programs, camps, field trips, and other outdoor programming and activities. 

Protecting outdoor workers from wildfire smoke

Protecting pets and livestock