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California Wildfire Smoke and Health: Should You Be Concerned?

Dec 12, 2018

Health and Wellness

California Wildfire Smoke and Health: Should You Be Concerned?

Recently, a public health emergency was declared in California due to the outbreak of three deadly wildfires that swept across the Northern and Southern regions. Heavy smoke and ash that blanketed the entire region caused the officials to issue health advisories for the South Coast and Bay Area Air Quality Management Districts.

Smoke from wildfires is linked to severe health problems. It’s essential that people living in the wildfire-prone regions should learn how to stay safe and healthy during an outbreak.

Why Wildfire Smoke Makes You Sick

Wildfire Smoke is a complex mixture of microscopic particles and gases including carbon monoxide and volatile organic carbon (produced due to the burning of wood and other organic matter). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that exposure to wildfire smoke can make you sick by causing or worsening many health problems that include:

  • Reduced lung function
  • Infectious bronchitis
  • Asthma attack
  • Heart failure
  • Sinus trouble
  • Increased cough

How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Your Health?

People who are exposed to wildfire smoke can develop a host of health problems as mentioned below:

  • Short-term exposures can aggravate pre-existing health issues like asthma, COPD, decreased lung function, or other lung and heart diseases

  • Long-term exposures can raise the risk of heart and lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Use the following measures to safeguard yourself from wildfire smoke:

  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Turn on your room air purifiers that have HEPA filters in them.
  • Limit your outdoor activities
  • Remain indoors and shut your windows and doors.
  • Switch on your air conditioners to keep you cool.
  • Avoid burning anything, including stoves and candles.
  • Monitor local news updates for information on fire situation in your area.
  • Stay notified about the local Air Quality Health Index

How to Stay Safe in Case of a Fire Nearby

Here are a few safety measures to follow when facing a fire nearby:

  • Be ready to evacuate the affected spot
  • Leave right away if evacuation is ordered
  • Keep receiving local news alerts
  • Limit your exposure to smoke
  • Assist others once you are safe

Don't Ignore Health and Safety Warnings

It’s important to pay attention to health and safety warnings, and stay in touch with your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen during a fire, especially if you are:

  • Someone suffering from pre-existing heart or lung disease
  • An older adult who is more likely to develop heart or lung diseases
  • Child, because children have an under-developed respiratory system
  • A diabetic person who is prone to underlying cardiovascular disease
  • A pregnant woman who has potential health risks for herself and the developing fetus
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