How Wildfire Smoke Can Impact Your Health
California Wildfires & The Impact Smoke Has on Your Health
Fires are becoming more seasonal here in California, so it’s best to know how to combat the resulting health problems that come with the fires. Really though, the only health problem a non-firefighter would have with the fires is what the smoke causes.
The Smoke and What it can Do
Most people are more worried about smoke inhalation and how that will affect their lungs, but what exactly makes smoke bad to breathe? Smoke is made up of many things including; carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, and nitrogen oxides. All those sound scary and they really are.
Carbon monoxide for example displaces oxygen in your blood which can then deprive other major organs of their oxygen causing fainting or worse. The worst though is particulate matter (PM) as it is composed of very small liquids and solids suspended in the air. When inhaled PM can stay in your lungs for a long time and cause wheezing, coughing, sore eyes and throats, and shortness of breath.
That isn’t the end of it though, people with heart or lung disease are at an increased risk of developing more severe symptoms of their diseases or risk premature death.
What Can You do to Protect Yourself from Smoke?
There are two steps to preventing smoke inhalation, preparing before the fire and what to do during the fire.
Wildfires can come out of nowhere without any notice. Best preparations for those fires are get out and as far away as possible. For the wildfires that are slow moving or you see coming, you’ll want to make sure you have several days worth of non-perishable food that you don’t have to cook. Cooking can add to indoor pollution levels, making inside almost as bad as outside.
Make sure to buy some N-95 or P-100 masks if you can find any.
Also you might want to consider buying an air cleaner as they can help reduce the amount of particulate matter in your house, also remember not to buy one that generates ozone as that contributes to the pollution in your home. If you suffer from any sort of illness or disease you may want to consult your doctor to make sure you have enough medication to last through the fires.
During the Fire
During the fire, you’ll mostly want to rely on common sense, so if it looks smokey and ashy outside then don’t go out or open any windows. Keep a close eye on air quality reports so you know when it’s okay to either go out or open up some windows. Try not to vacuum when the air quality gets really bad, as it can stir up unseen built-up particles and spread them into the air. Finally, remember to wear a N-95 or P-100 mask while outdoors, anything else like surgical masks or scarves (whether wet or dry) will not work and will not protect your lungs from the smoke.
While health problems aren’t the only problem with the fires, it is the most common issue people will be faced with besides being evacuated. So make sure to stay safe during these strange and scary times, and remember to keep a mask on!
Big Thanks to all of the Fire Fighters, Volunteers, and individuals who put themselves on the line to protect our communities. We appreciate all your efforts and stay safe!