Protecting Yourself from Wildfire Smoke: Essential Tips

During the summer, wildfire smoke from other states and Canada often impacts air quality across the Midwest and East Coast. As these events become more frequent, it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particulate matter that can make anyone sick. However, children, older adults, and people with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular disease are at higher risk. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the pollutant of most concern from wildfire smoke is fine particulate matter (PM 2.5,) a mix of microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and affect the heart and circulatory system.

According to Yale Medicine, inhaling wildfire smoke will cause symptoms similar to allergies, such as stinging eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sinus irritation, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Additionally, breathing in smoke can also cause headaches, fatigue, and a fast heartbeat.

By following these steps, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones:

  1. Follow Medical Advice: Ensure you have necessary medications and follow any specific advice from healthcare providers. If you have asthma, make sure to follow your Asthma Action Plan. If you are having trouble breathing, or if your symptoms worsen, call your doctor immediately.
  2. Avoid Activities that Increase Indoor Air Pollution: Avoid smoking, frying, or broiling food, or using a gas stove, as these activities create more pollution. Burning candles or incense also increases indoor air pollution. Even vacuuming can stir up particles already inside your home.
  3. Stay Indoors: Limit outdoor activities when air quality is poor, especially for sensitive groups. If you must go outside, consider wearing an N95 mask.
  4. Keep Windows Closed: Prevent smoke from entering your home and keep yourself cool by using fans and air conditioning to limit stress on your body from hot temperatures.
  5. Use Air Filters: HEPA air filters can significantly reduce indoor pollution. Check out the RHA blog post detailing how to pick out the right air filter for your home.
  6. Monitor Air Quality: Sign up for alerts on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency websites like Enviroflash or AirNow to stay informed about local air quality.