Wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause coughing, wheezing or difficulty in breathing. Inhaling smoke can be especially dangerous in those with lung disease (such as asthma, COPD/emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, etc.), heart disease, pregnant women, the elderly and children. These high-risk populations need to take special care and consider consulting with their doctors regarding specific precautions.
The California Thoracic Society, a chapter of the American Thoracic Society, highlighted the following tips for patients and providers in the areas affected by the wildfires.
Ten basic steps to consider for patients and providers:
- Stay indoors with windows and doors closed.
- Reduce physical activity.
- Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution such as smoking cigarettes, using a wood-burning stove or frying meat. Do not vacuum anywhere in the house.
- Use central air conditioner or filters: A home’s heater set to the fan mode may be able to filter out some of the particles by “re-circulating” the indoor air through the filter.
- Use air purifiers with HEPA filters. Note: Do not use filters that produce ozone such as “super oxygenators”.
- When traveling in a vehicle, keep windows closed, run the air conditioner and set air to re-circulate to reduce smoke.
- A mask can help reduce inhalation of particulates if properly fitted. A surgical or simple dust mask will not protect against particulate exposure. None of these masks protect against hazardous gas inhalation.
- Consider evacuation to areas with lower air quality index for individuals with lung disease (especially those with asthma, COPD / emphysema).
- Create a clean room at home. Use an interior room with fewer doors and windows and run an air conditioner and room air cleaner if available.
- Asthmatics should ensure that they continue to take their maintenance (“controller”) medications or discuss an appropriate regimen with their physician.