Winds have pushed wildfire smoke from British Columbia to both Washington and Oregon. Dangerous smoke from these wildfires poses lethal health hazards to people living and working in surrounding areas.
Residents with respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and those with chronic heart disease should take extra precautions during this time and call their physician immediately if problems develop, according to an American Lung Association media release on Friday.
The smoke from wildfires is a mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter (known as PM), hydrocarbons, other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides and trace minerals. Exposure to this smoke can cause serious health problems ranging from pneumonia and asthma attacks to cardiovascular episodes. Most vulnerable to smoke exposure are babies, small children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with existing respiratory problems or heart disease.
“Even those without lung disease are at risk during this time,” said Carrie Nyssen, vice president of Advocacy and Air Quality for the Mountain Pacific region of the American Lung Association. “With the rising smoke levels, there is an increased risk of dangerous health effects ranging from respiratory tract irritation to more serious illness, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening of asthma and premature death. This is especially concerning for older adults and outdoor workers. Special care should be given to children as they are most susceptible to smoke because their lungs are still developing.”
The American Lung Association offers the following tips:
• Stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut – with clean air circulating through air conditions and/or air cleaners. Residents should use the recirculation setting on their home air conditions to avoid outdoor air contamination. Using whole house fans is not recommended because they can allow unfiltered outside air into the home.
• When driving through smoky areas, car windows and vents should be closed. Air conditioning should be set to recirculate to avoid exposure to outside air.
• Avoid exercising outdoors, particularly if you smell smoke or experience eye or throat irritation.
More information on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke can be found online at lung.org. You can also call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA to speak with respiratory therapists and registered nurses regarding questions about lung health.