Smoke and Your Health
Prolonged exposure to smoke can be harmful to people of all ages, depending on the AQI reading as a measure of smoke density. Smoke can eventually damage your body’s ability to remove large particles and excess phlegm from your lungs and airway. Small particles (PM 2.5) pose the greatest risk because they can get deep into your lungs, and even into your bloodstream.
Symptoms of smoke exposure usually include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat or breathing discomfort, even in otherwise healthy people. More severe symptoms may include chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.
Anyone experiencing symptoms or with a known or suspected medical condition that could be worsened by smoke should contact their healthcare provider for further advice or call 911 if warranted.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Take precautions at appropriate AQI level if you are in a sensitive group:
- Children should take precautions and limit outdoor activities
- Recommendations for pregnant or nursing mothers
- Older adults and people with pre-existing conditions
Health Threats from Wildfire Smoke
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
Activity Guides Publications
This guide provides ways to protect your health when ozone pollution reaches unhealthy levels.
This guide provides ways to protect your health when particle pollution reaches unhealthy levels.
This guide provides ways to keep children active while protecting their health when air pollution reaches unhealthy levels.
How Do I Protect Myself?
- Limit your exposure to smoke. Pay attention to local air quality reports online with the Oregon DEQ and take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors.
- Avoid anything that increases indoor pollution like candles or vacuuming
- Close windows and doors.
- Run a standalone, HEPA grade indoor air purifier. They come in many sizes, so choose one right for at least one room where you spend the most time, or get more than one. You can always move it from a bedroom at night to a living space during the day.
- Run an air conditioner if you have one. Keep any fresh-air intake closed (many systems do not have one) and the filter clean. You can use a high-efficiency filter with a MERV 13 rating. Consult a local heating and air conditioning company to see if your system can handle a high efficiency filter like MERV 13. Air purifiers and filters can be purchased at your local hardware store or online.
- Fine particles, but not hazardous gases, can be filtered with an N95 or N100 face mask. Please do not wear an N95 mask with one-way valves around other people. Exhaled air is not filtered in these masks and does not reduce COVID spread to others.
- Ensure a tight fit and check how long your mask is effective. Bandanas and paper dust masks are ineffective and only trap large particles.
- Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Before you travel to a park or forest, check to see if any wildfires are happening or if any prescribed burns are planned.
- Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease or cardiovascular disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
Oregon Health Authority Recommendations
EPA Health Fact Sheets
- Reduce Your Smoke Exposure
- Protecting Children from Wildfire Smoke & Ash
- Protect Your Pets
- Protect Your Large Animals and Livestock
- Respiratory Protection
- Protect Yourself From Ash
- Indoor Air Filtration
- Prepare for Fire Season
- Asthma and Outdoor Air Pollution
- What Health Care Providers Should Know
- Heart Disease, Stroke, and Air Pollution