Wildfire Smoke: Tips for Protecting Your Lungs

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wayne Strauss, MD, PhD

Destructive wildfires ravaged the Western United States this year. Unfortunately, it may be a trend we continue to see each year. The smoke this fall has impacted nearly every Oregonian. Exposure to smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, cause headaches or chest pain, irritate your throat, and exacerbate existing health conditions or illnesses. Are you still feeling symptoms from wildfire smoke? People with chronic lung and heart diseases are especially vulnerable to the effects of hazardous air quality. If you have a lung or heart condition and are still feeling symptoms from the recent wildfires, reach out to your medical provider for specific information relevant to your condition. And, now that this year’s wildfire smoke has mostly passed, it’s a good time to check your air filter – it likely needs replacing! Plan ahead before the next fire season. When smoke is present and the air is hazardous, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible.
  • Avoid exercise and activities that tax your breathing.
  • Use an N95 mask or better when exposed to unhealthy air is unavoidable.
  • Simple surgical masks do not filter out the harmful smoke particles.
  • Keep your windows and outside doors tightly closed.
  • If possible, use a HEPA equipped air purifier in a room in your home with the least exposure to outside air to create a safer environment. Some air-conditioning systems can accomplish this as well.
  • Be sure you have extra medications on hand in case you need to evacuate or leave the area.
  • For people who live in severely affected areas, evacuate to somewhere with cleaner air if feasible.