Preparing for fire season: How wildfire smoke affects our health

SPOKANE, Wash. — Our air quality took a dip last week with wildfires burning in the area, but it could have been a lot worse.

When air quality plunges into the unhealthy and hazardous ranges, it can be harmful to breathe, especially for certain groups of people.

According to Spokane Clean Air, wildfire smoke is a complex mix of gases and particles.

The microscopic particles can get into your eyes and lungs, causing minor to serious health effects.

Here is a list showing what groups of people are especially sensitive to wildfire smoke:

  • Persons with, or recovering from, COVID-19
  • People with lung diseases (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema)
  • People with respiratory infections
  • People with existing heart or circulatory problems
  • People with a prior history of heart attack or stroke
  • Infants and children under 18
  • Older adults (over age 65)
  • Pregnant women
  • People who smoke
  • People with diabetes

Smoke can be harmful to anyone. Symptoms can be mild to severe, including coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, stinging eyes, and runny nose, shortness of breath, chest pain, and headaches.

Here are some ways to limit your exposure to wildfire smoke:

  • Limit or avoid time outdoors when the air quality is unhealthy.
  • Keep windows and doors closed until air quality improves.
  • Improve the filtration in your home by using an air conditioner, set to re-circulate not fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter as the manufacturer recommends. It may fill faster when smoke is prolonged.
  • Create a “cleaner-air room” in your home using a HEPA filter and change the filter more often when it’s smoky.
  • Avoid adding to indoor pollution by not smoking or using candles, incense, sprays, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Don’t broil or fry food. Don’t dust or use a vacuum unless it has a HEPA filter.
  • Check your vehicle air filters, make sure they are HEPA equivalent and change them more frequently when it is smoky.

You can also build a box fan filter. It’s an easy, low-cost way to filter out the smoke particles that get into your home.

Here’s a video explaining how to do it.

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