Forest fire smoke and your health

Information on smoke and health from the Interior Health website

  • Aug. 24, 2015 1:00 p.m.

Forest Fire Smoke and Your Health

What’s in forest fire smoke?

Forest fire smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and very small particles that are produced when wood and other organic matter burn. These small particles and gases can be harmful to your health.

What are short-term health risks?

Your body will try to protect itself against smoke by making more tears and mucous. This can cause runny noses, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses and headaches. You may also develop a cough.

A number of health effects are associated with wildfire smoke, including asthma and cardio obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cardiovascular outcomes.

Who is most at risk?

 

  • Children, seniors and pregnant women have a greater risk of adverse health effects than others. If you are pregnant, your healthcare provider has the best advice for you.
  • People who have chronic heart or lung problems are also at greater risk. These individuals may feel the effects of smoke earlier and worse than others in the community.
  • People who are very active doing work or sports outside are also at higher risk of adverse health effects.

How can I protect myself and minimize the health effects of fire smoke?

 

  • If forest fire smoke is affecting your breathing or making you uncomfortable in others ways, move to a less smoky area if possible. This may include going indoors or simply moving to an outdoor area with increased clean air flow.
  • Homes can get really hot with the windows closed. If you do go indoors to get out of the smoke, be sure that the temperature indoors doesn’t create additional problems for you. Use air conditioning if it is available and be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • If it is smoky outside, it is best not to go outdoors to do physical activity. This is a good time to stay indoors with the windows closed.
  • If you have a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner that will reduce levels of small particles in indoor air, use it and stay in the room where it is located.
  • Use air conditioning in cars and keep windows closed. Remember, vehicles should never be run in an enclosed space like a garage.
  • Avoid using smoke producing appliances such as wood stoves and even candles.
  • Do not smoke tobacco inside – smoking puts added stress on your lungs and those around you.
  • If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, be vigilant about avoiding smoke and taking your prescribed medicine. Speak with your health care provider to get the specific advice that is right for you.

If you experience difficulty breathing or other symptoms that you cannot control by getting out of the smoke, consult your healthcare provider or call Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000 or text telephone (TTY) at 1-877-797-0007).

Where can I learn more about local conditions?

Local conditions can change quickly. Tune into local media for details and updates on local conditions.

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