Protecting Your Lungs From Wildfire Smoke
Wildfires continue to burn throughout Southern California, forcing many people to evacuate their homes and workplaces.
Even if you don't live in an evacuation zone, smoke from the fires can pose a serious health risk.
"Smoke can present special health hazards to humans and pets—especially children, older adults and those with chronic respiratory problems such as emphysema, asthma, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and others," said Cedars-Sinai lung specialist, Zab Mosenifar, MD, medical director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute.
Mosenifar discussed steps people can take to protect their health from smoke and particles in the air.
Newsroom: How close to a fire must someone be for their health to be affected?
Mosenifar: Small particles in the air can travel hundreds of miles. While the immediate danger is within a 25-mile radius of a fire—depending on the winds—particles travel and float in the air for up to two weeks after the fire is out.
Newsroom: What are the health effects of breathing air near the fires?
Mosenifar: When inhaled, smoke and small particles—which consist of water vapor, carbon monoxide and ash – can cause both short-term and long-term damage to the airways and lungs. Risks include irritation of the airways, inhalation of particles in the air and of course exposure to smoke if you are near the fires.
Even if you cannot see the smoke and particles, be aware that they are still there and still harmful.
Newsroom: Should people limit their time outside?
Mosenifar: Those with compromised immune systems—particularly people with lung disease or heart disease or the elderly or very young—should do their best to stay indoors. That goes for pets as well. Animals, especially dogs, can have an even stronger reaction to smoky air than humans. Even if you cannot see the smoke and particles, be aware that they are still there and still harmful.
Newsroom: How can people improve the indoor air quality?
Mosenifar: If you have access to an air filter, use that at home or at work. If not, setting an air conditioner to recirculate air can be helpful. Make sure air conditioner filters are clean. People with respiratory problems should be sure to continue to use their inhalers.
Newsroom: If someone must go outside, what precautions should they take?
Mosenifar: You should wear a mask, specifically an N95 mask to keep particles out. If you don't have a mask, cover your face with a wet towel when you go outdoors.
Newsroom: When should someone see a physician?
Mosenifar: If you are suffering from persistent coughing, wheezing or an inability to catch your breath, it may be time to see a doctor, especially for those with respiratory problems. Watch for the same symptoms in pets. If they persist, seek veterinary assistance.
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Your Health?