Health Risks and Reducing Exposure
Health Risks of Wildfire Smoke
Breathing in wildfire smoke by itself can produce harmful health effects. These range from minor symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation or headaches, to more severe symptoms like shortness of breath, chest tightness, asthma attacks and worsening existing chronic conditions. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of smoke. Sensitive groups include:
- People with health conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, or other heart and lung diseases, or people who have had a stroke
- Children under 18
- Adults over 65
- People who are pregnant
- People who smoke
- People with other respiratory illnesses
Stay informed of the latest air quality conditions near you and learn about steps you can take to reduce your exposure.
Masks and Wildfire Smoke
The most effective ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke are to stay indoors, limit time outdoors and reduce physical activity. People who must be outside in smoky air may benefit from wearing masks. The right mask with the proper fit can reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke.
What face mask should I get?
N95 respirators are the cheapest and most available mask to help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. They are generally available at hardware stores and pharmacies. Make sure the mask is:
- Certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Not a one-strap paper dust mask or surgical mask. It should have two straps that go around your head.
- A size that fits over your nose and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. If the mask does not fit properly, it may not provide any protection. Mask with a relief valve will make breathing easier.
Using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe. Anyone with lung or heart disease should check with their health care provider before using any mask.
Steps to Reduce Exposure
- Limit duration and intensity of outside physical activity.
- Stay inside with cleaner indoor air:
- Close windows and doors, unless it is too hot to maintain safe temperatures.
- Don't add to indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoking or burning candles.
- Filter indoor air through an HVAC system, HEPA portable air cleaner, or DIY box fan filter (You Tube Video by Colville Tribes Air Quality Program).
- If unable to maintain clean air at home, go elsewhere for cleaner air such as a friend's place, public space, or unimpacted area.
- If you must be outside, wear a properly fitted, NIOSH-approved particulate respirator, such as an N95 mask.
More information on improving ventilation and minimizing occupant exposures and health impacts from smoke during wildfire and prescribed burn events specific to commercial buildings and schools can be found on the website below:
- Framework for Protecting Commercial Building Occupants from Smoke During Wildfire Events by ASHRAE
- Improving Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Smoke Events recommendations for schools and buildings with mechanical ventilation